Ever since Yuri Gagarin became the first person to go to space in 1961, a total of 653 people have made the trip beyond the boundaries of our planet. Out of those, only 19 are African-Americans, and just 5 are women.
African-American women have faced a unique set of challenges and prejudices, yet their resilience and unwavering spirit have propelled them to reach for the stars, quite literally.
In this article, we’ll take a look at all the women that throughout history have managed to beat these challenges to become astronauts for NASA and achieve the grand dream of flying into outer space.
African-American female astronauts
1. Mae Jemison
|Date of birth||October 17, 1956|
|Mission(s) to space||STS-47 (September 12, 1992)|
Mae Jemison became the first black woman to go to space on September 12, 1992. She was selected to take flight in the now-retired Space Shuttle Endeavour due to her background in chemical engineering and medicine which made her a perfect fit for the science objectives of the mission.
We have a whole article filled with fun facts about Mae Jemison that dives deeper into her life and achievements if you want to learn more.
2. Stephanie Wilson
|Date of birth||September 27, 1966|
|Mission(s) to space||STS-121 (July 4, 2006)|
STS-120 (October 23, 2007)
STS-131 (April 5, 2010)
Stephanie Wilson is the first African-American woman that went on multiple spaceflights and also the first to visit the International Space Station.
Her background is in aerospace engineering and the missions she participated in included the installation, repair, and maintenance of various systems and equipment in the ISS. She also performed multiple EVAs (ExtraVehicular Activities) which are “walks” outside the spacecraft with a spacesuit.
3. Joan Higginbotham
|Date of birth||August 3, 1964|
|Mission(s) to space||STS-116 (December 9, 2006)|
Joan Higginbotham got a Bachelor of Science degree from the Southern Illinois University Carbondale as well as two master’s degrees in management science and space systems from the Florida Institute of Technology. This led her to work at NASA as part of the engineering team and to be selected for the STS-116 mission aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.
Joan only went in one spaceflight but participated in 53 launches as an engineer and technical lead.
She had been selected to go on a second spaceflight on mission STS-126 but she decided to take a job in the private sector before the mission and was replaced.
4. Sian Proctor
|Date of birth||March 28, 1970|
|Mission(s) to space||Inspiration4 (September 16, 2021)|
Sian Proctor became the first black woman to pilot a spacecraft into space in 2001 as part of the Inspiration4 mission operated by SpaceX. She piloted the Crew Dragon spacecraft to achieve orbital altitude. The Inspiration4 was also the first all-civilian spaceflight mission performed by a private company.
Her background is in environmental sciences, geology, and science education. On top of her very successful career as a pilot, she is also a science communicator and speaker.
5. Jessica Watkins
|Date of birth||May 14, 1988|
|Mission(s) to space||SpaceX Crew-4 (April 27, 2022)|
As if being an astronaut wasn’t enough, Jessica Watkins is also a geologist, aquanaut, and former rugby player. She currently holds the record for most days in space for an African-American woman with 42 days and 23 hours.
Jessica was assigned to be part of the crew of the SpaceX Crew-4 mission to the International Space Station. The objectives of her mission included observing and documenting geological changes on Earth from space, as well as other types of research.
NASA currently has plans to go back to the Moon and one of the objectives of this program is to get the first woman to the Moon.
At the time of writing, the plan is to have the first crewed spaceflight test in 2024 and to land on the moon by 2025.
Stephanie Wilson and Jessica Watkins (both mentioned above) have already been selected as part of the 18 candidate astronauts that will form the Artemis team and it is very likely that one of them will become the first African-American woman to land on the Moon.
- A total of five African-American women have gone to space as astronauts. They are Mae Jemison, Stephanie Wilson, Joan Higginbotham, Sian Proctor, and Jessica Watkins.
- All of them were selected due to their high qualification in their respective fields, including engineering, piloting, and science.
- Stephanie Wilson and Jessica Watkins have been selected as candidates for the Artemis program that will land the first woman on the Moon.