Repost: And More of our African American Astronauts

>> Thursday, February 12, 2015

Reposted from my Today blog in 2009:

For those of you who were surprised how many African American astronauts there were, let me tell you, you didn’t know the half of it because I have eight more to tell you about.  If someone ever tells you black people can’t do the math or the science or handle complex concepts (as if Obama isn’t sufficient evidence to the contrary), take a good look at some of the talent NASA has been proud to accept into one of the most difficult and most elite technical jobs there are.  

As I mentioned on the comments on yesterday’s blog, most astronauts have multiple degrees, even multiple PhD’s.  Some are medical doctors, most are pilots (some are both).  And our astronaut corps is wonderfully diverse.

So, without more ado:

Frederick D. Gregory is not only a former astronaut, he is also a former NASA administrator (acting during the lag between Sean O’Keefe and Michael Griffin).  Another pilot and test pilot, he was accepted into the corps in 1978.  He was the pilot for STS-51B in 1985 (SpaceLab mission).  He was also the first African American to command a flight which he did for STS-33 (Department of Defense mission) and then commanded STS-44 (another DoD mission). He was also, at one time, my boss at HQ.  He led Office of Safety and Mission Assurance for nine years at NASA.  When I rocked the boat in 1996, he’s the one that backed me all the way to the top and made changes to how we fly that are still in practice.
Bernard Anthony Harris, Jr. set another first for African Americans in space.  A flight surgeon and a
clinical scientist, he worked on research for the effects of low gravity on people and countermeasures for it.  He was selected for the astronaut corps in 1990 and flight as a mission specialist on STS-55 in 1991 and flew again on STS-63 in 1995 where he was the first African American to go on a spacewalk (but not the last!).  Harris retired from the astronaut core in 1996.

Mae Carol Jamison was the first African American in space, but she had a pretty exciting life even beyond that.  She danced.  She entered Stanford University at 16.  She got a BS in chemical engineering four years later and her medical degree four years after that.  She worked as a Peace Corps Medical Officer.  Inspired by Nichelle Nichols, Jamison was accepted into the astronaut corps in 1987 and flew her only mission on STS-47 in 1992.  She retired from NASA in 1993 (to NASA’s dismay) and has the distinction of being the first real astronaut to ever appear on Star Trek (The Next Generation).  And she’s done much more besides.  Check out the link for more.
Joan Elizabeth Higgenbotham has multiple degrees and flew as a payload
specialist on STS-116, the first mission with two African American crewmembers (including Robert Curbeam from yesterday).
Leland Devon Melvin has degrees in Chemistry and Materials Science Engineering and played football as a wide receiver at the University of Richmond and even “drafted” by the Detroit Lions in 1986 (Yes, kids you can be athletic and smart, too.  Astronauts prove it regularly.), but repeated injuries killed that career. After working as an engineer at Langley Research Center, he was selected as an astronaut in 1998.  Since joining NASA he has been co-manager of NASA’s Educator Astronaut Program, no doubt inspiring children and reminding them about why we need a space program.  He flew as a mission specialist on STS-122 in 2008.

Robert Lee Satcher Jr . (born on September 22, 1965) is a physician, chemical engineer, and NASA astronaut.  He has an MD as well as a doctorate in Chemical Engineering, with experience in oncology and biomedical engineering.  He hasn’t yet flown, but he’s ready to go.

Winston Scott courtesy of NASAWinston Elliot Scott has a masters in aeronautical engineering, a 2nd degree black belt in Shotokan karate and plays the trumpet.  He’s also a navy pilot with 4000 hours flying 20 different aircraft, including helicopters, fighter aircraft and civilian craft.  Oh, and he’s also an astronaut, flying on STS-72 in 1996 where he performed a spacewalk and STS-87 in 1997 where he performed two more.  He retired from NASA in 1999.
Stephanie Diana Wilson is the second African American woman to go into

space.  She has a master’s degree in aerospace engineering.  Before becoming an astronaut, she worked for Martin Marrietta and then Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the Galileo spacecraft.  She was selected to be an astronaut in 1996 and has flown as a mission specialist on both STS-120 in 2007 and STS-121 in 2006, both ISS assembly missions.  She is currently training to fly on STS-131 in 2010.

As can be readily seen, there’s a wealth of talent and intelligence here, as well as countless hours of hard work.  And, in the end, that’s what you really need to be an astronaut.


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