To date, four African American women have flown in space. Mae Jemison was the first Black woman to travel to space in 1992, and most recently Dr. Sian Proctor flew to space as part of the Inspiration4 mission.
World Space Week 2021: This post is part of our World Space Week coverage 2021. Each year, World Space Week runs from October 4-10 and includes millions of people at thousands of events around the world. This year, the theme is celebrating Women in Space.
Dr. Mae Jemison
Mae Jemison was the first African American woman to travel into space. She graduated from Stanford with multiple degrees in chemical engineering and African American studies, then went on to earn a medical degree from Cornell. She was chosen as part of NASA Astronaut Group 12 in 1987. During her time at NASA, she flew on one mission, STS-47. The eight-day mission on Space Shuttle Endeavor included experiments in fluid dynamics, biotechnology, human health, and more. She has been very successful in her Post-NASA career, as a professor at both Dartmouth and Cornell. She is a strong advocate of getting minority students interested in science and furthering science education.
The second African American woman to fly in space was Stephanie Wilson. After earning degrees in engineering science and aerospace engineering, she was selected as an Astronaut Candidate by NASA in 1996. She has flown as a mission specialist on three space shuttle missions, STS-121, STS-120, and STS-131. So far, she has spent over 42 days in space, but her days of space travel are not yet over. She was selected as one of 18 astronauts who are a part of the Artemis team. The Artemis program will return to the Moon, bringing the first woman and first person of color to the lunar surface.
With master’s degrees in management science and space systems, Joan Higginbotham was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1996. Before becoming an astronaut she had worked as a payload electrical engineer and lead for orbiter experiments. She spent 12 days in space as a part of STS-116 (the final shuttle launch from SLC 39B) as a mission specialist. Her primary role was operating the Space Station Remote Manipulation System (more commonly referred to as the Canadarm2).
Dr. Sian Proctor
The most recent African American woman to travel to space is Dr. Sian Proctor. She flew to space, not with NASA, but as a private citizen as a part of the Inspiration4 mission. She served as pilot on that mission, becoming the first African American woman to pilot a spacecraft. She has an extensive history with spaceflight. Her father worked on the remote ground terminals during the Apollo era. She was a finalist for NASA’s 2009 Astronaut Class but was not one of the nine selected. In 2013, she served as an analog astronaut at the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation (HI-SEAS) habitat. She is a geology professor and science communicator, making multiple television appearances where she shared her expertise.
Featured image source images: NASA, John Kraus/Inspiration4
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