At Great Neck North High School, Mary Cleave wanted to fly but didn't dream of becoming an astronaut.
Yet, she eventually became the first Nassau County woman in space. And Monday she was honored for her achievements as she was inducted, along with two others, into the Long Island Air & Space Hall of Fame at the Cradle of Aviation Museum.
"I got interested in science in school," Cleave, 63, said in an interview. "I never really thought about going into space, but I started flying when I was 14, soloed when I was 16 and had a private pilot's license when I was 17."
Cleave said she wanted to become a flight attendant after college, "but I was too short." So she completed graduate school and "then NASA advertised for scientists and engineers to go work in space, and I said, 'Ooh, that sounds like a lot of fun.' "
Cleave, who now lives in Annapolis, Md., flew two missions totaling almost 11 days on the shuttle Atlantis, now making its final flight, before moving on to research and administrative positions with NASA before retiring from the space agency three years ago.
It was the second induction ceremony at the museum, which annually adds three honorees: a pioneer in aviation, one from the mid-20th century and one from the space era. The initial group last year included Glenn Curtiss, who in 1909 became the first person on Long Island to fly, Leroy Grumman, head of the manufacturing company that built famed Navy aircraft, and astronaut Karol Bobko, a former Seaford resident who was the first Long Islander in space.
Erik Lindbergh of Seattle accepted the award for his grandfather, who died in 1974. "He was very anxious about fame; it caused a tremendous burden in his life," said Lindbergh, who in 2002 retraced his grandfather's flight from Roosevelt Field to Paris to celebrate the flight's 75th anniversary. "I think grandfather would have been very ambivalent about being on this wall, but it's a huge honor for the family and I think really illustrates the impact he had on our planet."
Joan Kelly of Cutchogue accepted the award for her late husband. "I think he would have been surprised and very happy," she said. "He loved his work at Grumman, and he loved the Cradle of Aviation Museum."
Cleave recalled her flights in 1985 and 1989 on Atlantis, which she called "a great machine." On the first, she served as flight engineer and operated the mechanical arm. On her second, Atlantis deployed the first planetary probe spacecraft from a shuttle "so that was great fun, too." She also conducted materials science experiments on both flights.
On her maiden voyage, Cleave said, "I was just so focused on everything I was supposed to be doing that I really didn't enjoy the ride." But at the end of the first long day when the spacecraft was stabilized, "I sat up in the commander's seat and just looked out the window. It was placid and peaceful. Stars don't twinkle; you can see the colors. It's awesome."