16 Black Americans in Astronomy and Space

Space Shuttle Mission STS-47
American NASA astronaut Mae Jemison having her suit inspected by technician Sharon McDougle at the Operations and Checkout Building ahead of the launch of Space Shuttle Endeavour Mission STS-47 at Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida, 12th September 1992. Jemison became the first black woman to travel into space when she served as a mission specialist aboard shuttle mission STS-47.

Space Frontiers / Getty Images

Since humans first looked up into the night sky and asked “What’s out there?” hundreds of Black American men and women have been helping us find the answers. Today, few people know that since as early as 1791, Black Americans have been making groundbreaking, often heroic, contributions in the fields of astronomy, astrophysics, mathematics, and space exploration.

Many of these pioneering Black scientists performed vital mathematical and engineering work in the face of laws that prevented them from drinking from the same water fountains or using the same bathrooms as their white co-workers. Fortunately, today’s recognition of the benefits of racial inclusivity has resulted in a richly diverse and incredibly talented group of scientists and astronauts uniquely capable of taking us deeper into that night sky—to Mars and beyond.

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Benjamin Banneker

Illustrated portrait of American author, astronomer, and farmer Benjamin Banneker (1731 - 1806), mid to late 18th century.(Photo by Stock Montage/Getty Images)
Benjamin Banneker. Stock Montage / Contributor/ Archive Photos/ Getty Images

Benjamin Banneker (November 9, 1731 – October 19, 1806) was a free Black American mathematician, author, surveyor, landowner, and farmer heralded as the first Black astronomer in the United States. Utilizing his knowledge of astronomy and mathematics, he authored one of the first series of almanacs accurately predicting the positions of the Sun, the Moon, and the planets. In his late teens, he built a wooden pocket watch that kept precise time for over 40 years until it was destroyed in a fire. In 1788, he accurately predicted a solar eclipse that occurred in 1789. Working alongside Major Andrew Ellicott, he completed the survey setting the original borders of the District of Columbia in 1791.

Born a freeman on November 9, 1731, in Baltimore County, Maryland, Banneker was raised on a farm he would eventually inherit from his father. Largely self-educated, he read voraciously about astronomy, mathematics, and history from borrowed books. Any formal education he might have received is believed to have come in a Quaker school near his home.

Though never enslaved himself, Banneker was vocal in his support of abolition. In 1791, he began corresponding with Thomas Jefferson appealing for Jefferson’s assistance in ending the practice of enslavement and securing racial equality for Black Americans. “The time, it is hoped is not very remote, when those ill-fated people, dwelling in this land of freedom, shall commence a participation with the white inhabitants, in the blessings of liberty; and experience the kindly protection of government, for the essential rights of human nature,” he wrote. 

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Dr. Arthur Bertram Cuthbert Walker II

UV color image of a solar flare taken by NASA’s Apollo Telescope mounted on Skylab, 1973.
UV color image of a solar flare taken by NASA’s Apollo Telescope mounted on Skylab, 1973. Oxford Science Archive/Print Collector/Getty Images

Arthur Bertram Cuthbert Walker, II (August 24, 1936 - April 29, 2001) was a Black American solar physicist and educator who was instrumental in developing the x-ray and ultraviolet telescopes used to capture the first detailed photographs of the Sun’s outermost atmosphere, the corona, in 1987. Still widely used in cosmology and astrophysics today, the technologies Walker developed are used in NASA’s solar telescopes, and the fabrication of microchips. As a professor of physics at Stanford University from 1974 until his death, Walker encouraged many racial minorities and women to pursue careers in space research and exploration, including Sally Ride, the first American woman astronaut to fly into space in 1983. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan appointed Walker to serve on the commission that investigated the causes of the space shuttle Challenger disaster.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio on August 24, 1936, Walker earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland in 1957. In 1958 and 1962, he received his master’s and doctorate degrees in astrophysics from the University of Illinois. His doctoral dissertation focused on the radiation energy involved in the atomic binding of protons and neutrons.

Beginning his scientific career as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force in 1962, Walker helped create satellites used to study the Earth’s protective Van Allen radiation belts. After completing his Air Force duty in 1965, Walker worked at the nonprofit Aerospace Corporation, where from 1971 to 1973, he directed the Space Astronomy Program. His later career was devoted to the study of the Sun’s atmosphere. 

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Dr. Harvey Washington Banks

Dr. Harvey Washington Banks (February 7, 1923 - 1979) was an American astronomer and scientist who made history in 1961 when he became the first Black American scientist to earn a doctorate specifically in astronomy. His research contributed to advances in the field of astronomical spectroscopy, the use of light to study the properties of stars, planets, asteroids, and other celestial bodies. Banks also specialized in geodesy, the science of accurately measuring and understanding the Earth’s geometric shape, orientation in space, and gravity field. Many aspects of today’s Global Positioning System (GPS) technology are based on his work in geodesy.

Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on February 7, 1923, Banks moved with his family to Washington, D.C., where he attended Dunbar High School, famed for developing generations of academically elite, groundbreaking Black Americas, even during racial segregation. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physics from Howard University in 1946 and 1948, respectively. He remained at Howard, where he taught physics until 1952. From 1952 to 1954, he worked in the private sector before teaching physics and mathematics in the Washington, D.C. public school system for two years. In 1961, he became the first Black American to receive a Ph.D. in astronomy from Georgetown University. 

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Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye (left) arrive at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 10, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.
Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye (left) arrive at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards at Microsoft Theater on September 10, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. Emma McIntyre / Contributor, Getty Images

Neil deGrasse Tyson (born October 5, 1958) is an American astronomer, astrophysicist, and author known for presenting complex scientific concepts clearly and understandably. Through his many appearances on programs such as Public Broadcasting’s “'NOVA ScienceNOW,” Tyson encourages science education and the exploration of space. In 2004, President George W. Bush appointed Tyson to a select commission studying the future of the U.S. space program. The commission’s report, “Moon, Mars, and Beyond,” defined a new agenda for space exploration expressed as “A Renewed Spirit of Discovery.” In 2006, the director of NASA appointed Tyson to its prestigious Advisory Council.

Born and raised in New York City, Tyson graduated from the Bronx High School of Science in 1976. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physics from Harvard in 1980 and a master’s degree in astronomy from the University of Texas in 1983. After teaching astronomy at the University of Maryland from 1986 to 1987, he received a Ph.D. in astrophysics from Columbia University in 1991. In 1996, he was appointed director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. Areas of Tyson’s ongoing professional research include star formation, black holes, dwarf galaxies, and the structure of our Milky Way galaxy.

In his June 2020 essay, “Reflections on the Color of My Skin,” Tyson recounted his conversation with more than a dozen other prominent Black scientists at the 2000 meeting of the National Society of Black Physicists. Discussing their shared experiences of racial profiling during encounters with white police officers, Tyson concluded, “We were guilty not of DWI (Driving While Intoxicated), but of other violations none of us knew were on the books: DWB (Driving While Black), WWB (Walking While Black), and of course, JBB (Just Being Black).”

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Doctor Beth A. Brown

Beth Brown
Dr. Beth A. Brown, NASA Astrophysicist who explored the high-energy universe. She worked at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and also taught at Howard University. NASA

Beth A. Brown (July 15, 1969 - October 5, 2008) was a NASA astrophysicist specialized in the study of black holes and the emission of x-ray radiation from galaxies. In her work at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, she championed science communications and higher education. After her premature death from a pulmonary embolism at age 39, the American Astronomical Society created the Beth Brown Memorial Award for outstanding minority science students, now presented at the annual meetings of the National Society of Black Physicists.

Born in Roanoke, Virginia in 1969, Brown loved Star Trek and Star Wars. In 1987, she graduated as valedictorian from William Fleming High School. During a class trip to an observatory, she viewed the Ring Nebula, an experience she called the moment she “got hooked on astronomy.” She received her bachelor’s degree in astrophysics from Howard University in 1991, graduating summa cum laude. She then earned a master’s degree in astronomy from the University of Michigan and in 1998, became the first Black woman to earn a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan's Department of Astronomy. During her time there, Brown developed a popular course in “naked eye astronomy” to help students observe the night sky without the aid of telescopes or binoculars.

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Robert Henry Lawrence

Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr.
Robert H. Lawrence, first African -American astronaut selected by NASA. NASA

Robert Henry Lawrence, Jr. (October 2, 1935 - December 8, 1967) was a United States Air Force officer and the first Black American astronaut. Though he died in a flight training accident before he could fly in space, his experience as an Air Force test pilot greatly benefited NASA’s early crewed spaceflight program.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Lawrence graduated in the top 10% of his class from Englewood High School in 1952. In 1956, he earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Bradley University, where he also distinguished himself as the Cadet Commander of the Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps. As a second lieutenant, Lawrence completed U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB, California, in June 1967, and was immediately selected as America’s first Black astronaut as part of the Air Force's fledgling Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program.  

At the press conference announcing his selection as an astronaut, Lawrence was jokingly asked by a reporter, “Will you have to sit in the back seat of the capsule,” a reference to the historic Rosa Parks racial discrimination incident in Montgomery, Alabama. “No, I don't think so,” Lawrence replied. “It’s another one of those things that we look forward to in civil rights—a normal progression.” 

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Guion Stewart Bluford Jr.

NASA Astronaut Guion Bluford, Jr.
eqadams63/ Earnest Adams/ Flickr

Guion Stewart Bluford, Jr. Bluford (born November 22, 1942) is an American aerospace engineer, retired U.S. Air Force fighter pilot, and former NASA astronaut who in 1983 became the first Black American to fly in space aboard space shuttle Challenger. Bluford’s numerous honors include membership in the International Space Hall of Fame and the National Aviation Hall of Fame alongside such groundbreaking space aviators as John Glenn, Neil Armstrong, and Buzz Aldrin.

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Bluford graduated from the predominantly Black Overbrook High School in 1960. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in aerospace engineering from Pennsylvania State University in 1964, he went on to earn a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology in 1974 and 1978. No stranger to danger, Bluford’s career as an Air Force fighter jet pilot included 144 combat missions during the Vietnam War, including 65 over North Vietnam.  

After being selected for training in 1987, Bluford was officially designated as a NASA astronaut in August 1979. Between 1983 and 1992, he served as a mission specialist on four space shuttle missions: STS-8, STS-61-A, STS-39, and STS-53. Throughout his NASA career, Bluford logged over 688 hours in space.

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Charles F. Bolden, Jr.

Charles Bolden
Former astronaut and NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden. Courtesy NASA.

Charles F. Bolden Jr. (born August 1946) is a former Marine aviator and NASA astronaut who between 1968 and 1994 logged over 680 hours in space as a pilot and commander aboard space shuttles Columbia, Discovery, and Atlantis. In 2009, President Barack Obama appointed him as the first Black administrator of NASA. As NASA administrator Bolden oversaw the transition from the agency’s space shuttle missions to the current era of exploration focused on fully utilizing the International Space Station and creating advanced space and aeronautics technology. Before retiring from NASA in 2017, he led the development of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, designed to carry astronauts to Mars and beyond. In 1997, Bolden was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame, and in 2017, received the Carl Sagan Award for Public Appreciation of Science.

Born in Columbia, South Carolina, Bolden graduated from C. A. Johnson High School in 1964. As a high school senior, his application to the United States Naval Academy was rejected by South Carolina’s Congressional delegation, which included segregationist Senator Strom Thurmond. After appealing directly to President Lyndon Johnson, he received his appointment, was voted president of his class, and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in electrical science in 1968. He went on to earn a master’s degree in systems management from the University of Southern California in 1977 and is a member of the historically Black Omega Psi Phi fraternity. 

As a Second Lieutenant in the United States Marine Corps, Bolden completed flight training and was designated a Naval Aviator in May 1970. From June 1972 to June 1973, he flew more than 100 combat missions into North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. After leaving NASA in 1994, Bolden returned to his Marine Corps duty, eventually serving as the Commanding General in support of the bombing of Kuwait during Operation Desert Thunder in 1998.

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Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr.

Bernard A. Harris
Dr. Bernard A. Harris, Jr. former NASA astronaut, physician, and business leader. Tom Pierce, CC BY-SA-3.0

Dr. Bernard Harris, Jr. (born June 26, 1956) is a physician and former NASA astronaut who in1995 became the first Black American to walk in space during the second of his four space shuttle missions. Having logged over 438 hours while traveling over 7.2 million miles in space, Harris was awarded the NASA Award of Merit in 1996.

Born on June 26, 1956, in Temple, Texas, Harris spent most of his early childhood on a Navajo Nation Native American reservation in New Mexico before moving to San Antonio, Texas, graduating from Sam Houston High School in 1974. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Houston in 1978 and an M.D. degree from Texas Tech University School of Medicine in 1982. Harris completed his residency in internal medicine at the Mayo Clinic in 1985. In 1987, he was hired by NASA as a flight surgeon at the Johnson Space Center, where, in 1990, he was selected for the Astronaut Training Program.

In August 1991, Harris completed his first space flight as a Mission Specialist aboard the space shuttle Columbia. In 1993, again onboard Columbia, he orbited the Earth for 10 days. On February 9, 1995, Harris, serving as payload commander aboard space shuttle Discovery, became the first Black American to perform a spacewalk when he and astronaut Michael Foale tested modifications to NASA spacesuits designed to keep spacewalking astronauts warmer in the extreme cold of space. In June 1995, Harris again served as payload commander aboard space shuttle Columbia when it docked successfully with the Russian space station Mir to form the largest man-made satellite ever to orbit the Earth.

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Frederick Gregory

Frederick Gregory
Col (ret) Frederick D. Gregory, former NASA astronaut and Deputy Administrator of NASA./.

Getty Images

Frederick Gregory (born January 7, 1941) is a former U.S. Air Force pilot, NASA astronaut, and former NASA Deputy Administrator, who became the first Black American to pilot a space shuttle. Between 1985 and 1991, he logged more than 455 hours in space as the commander of three major space shuttle missions. Before working for NASA, Gregory was a highly decorated helicopter pilot during the Vietnam War.

Gregory was born and raised in a racially integrated neighborhood in Washington, D.C. The only child of two accomplished educators, he graduated from predominantly Black Anacostia High School. Nominated to the United States Air Force Academy by Senator Adam Clayton Powell Jr., he earned an undergraduate degree in military engineering and a U.S. Air Force commission. He also holds a master’s degree in information systems from George Washington University. While serving as a rescue helicopter pilot in Vietnam, he earned numerous military decorations, including the Distinguished Flying Cross. After returning to the United States in 1967, he flew as a test pilot for NASA. After completing the astronaut training program in 1978, he was selected as one of 35 astronauts.

Gregory’s first mission to space came in April 1985, as a flight specialist on the space shuttle Challenger. On November 23, 1989, he became the first Black space commander when he piloted the space shuttle Discovery in a mission to deploy a top-secret payload for the Department of Defense. After completing his third space mission as commander of space shuttle Atlantis in 1991, Gregory was appointed Associate Administrator of NASA’s Office of Safety and Mission Quality and served as NASA’s Deputy Administrator from 2002 to 2005.

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Dr. Mae Jemison

Mae Jemison
Mae Jemison (Mae C. Jemison, M.D.). Courtesy NASA

Dr. Mae Jemison (born October 17, 1956) is a physician and former NASA astronaut who, in 1987, became the first Black American woman admitted into NASA’s astronaut training program. On September 12, 1992, she became the first Black woman in space, serving as a medical specialist aboard space shuttle Endeavour. The holder of numerous honorary doctorate degrees, Jemison has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, alongside luminaries such as Susan B. Anthony and Abigail Adams. She is also a member of the International Space Hall of Fame and holds the distinction of being the first real-life astronaut to appear on Star Trek: The Next Generation. 

Jemison was born on October 17, 1956, in Decatur, Alabama. At age three, her family moved to Chicago, Illinois, where she graduated with honors from Morgan Park High School in 1973. As the recipient of a National Achievement Scholarship, she attended Stanford University, earning a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering in 1977. After obtaining her M.D. from Cornell University Medical College in 1981, she worked as a general practitioner at the University of Southern California Medical Center. From 1983 to 1985, she worked in Liberia and Sierra Leone as a medical officer for the Peace Corps.

In 1987, Jemison applied for the NASA astronaut program and was one of the 15 people selected to be a part the first group of astronauts named since the space shuttle Challenger disaster. From 1990 to 1992, she served on the board of directors of the World Sickle Cell Foundation. After leaving NASA in 1993, Jemison founded a consulting firm that incorporates socio-cultural considerations into the design of advanced medical technology. She is currently the director of the 100 Year Starship project, a nonprofit initiative to ensure the development of the capabilities necessary for human travel beyond our solar system to another star within the next 100 years.  

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Doctor Ronald E. McNair

Ronald E. McNair
Dr Ronald E. McNair, NASA physicist and astronaut. He died in the Challenger tragedy in 1986. NASA

Doctor Ronald E. McNair (October 21, 1950 - January 28, 1986) was a NASA astronaut and physicist who died along with the entire crew of seven in an explosion seconds after the launch of the space shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986. Two years before the Challenger disaster, he had flown as a mission specialist on Challenger, becoming the second Black American to fly in space.

Born in Lake City, South Carolina, on October 21, 1950, McNair experienced racism at an early age. In 1959, he refused to leave the segregated Lake City Public Library after being told that he could not check out books because of his race. After his mother and the police were called, he was allowed to borrow books from the library, now named The Dr. Ronald E. McNair Life History Center. In 1967, he graduated from Carver High School as valedictorian. He received a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics from the North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University in 1971, and a Ph.D. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1976.

In 1978, McNair, along with Guion Stewart Bluford and Frederick Gregory, was selected by NASA as the first Black American astronauts. In January 1985, he was assigned to the crew of the STS-51L mission of the space shuttle Challenger along with Judith Resnik, public school teacher Christa McAuliffe, and four other astronauts. Challenger lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on January 28, 1986, but a mere 73 seconds into its flight, the shuttle exploded, killing all seven astronauts and putting the U.S. crewed spaceflight program on hold for months.

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Michael P. Anderson

Michael P. Anderson
Astronaut Michael P. Anderson aboard space shuttle Columbia for mission STS-107.


Michael P. Anderson (December 25, 1959 - February 1, 2003) was a U.S. Air Force officer and NASA astronaut who, along with six other crew members died in the space shuttle Columbia disaster. Having served as the Columbia’s payload commander and lieutenant officer in charge of science, Anderson was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, an award previously bestowed on U.S. astronauts including Neil Armstrong, John Glenn, and Alan Shepard.

Born on December 25, 1959, in Plattsburgh, New York, Anderson grew up in Spokane, Washington, which he called his hometown. As one of just four Black Americans in a class of 200 students, he graduated from Cheney High School. In 1981, he earned a bachelor’s degree in physics and astronomy from the University of Washington in Seattle, and a Master of Science degree in physics from Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, in 1990. As a U.S. Air Force pilot, Anderson flew an EC-135 “Looking Glass,” airborne command and control center, and later served as a flight instructor.

Having recorded more than 3,000 hours of flight time as an Air Force pilot, Anderson was selected by NASA for astronaut training in December 1994. In January 1998, he made his first trip into space as a mission specialist on space shuttle Endeavour’s eighth astronaut and equipment transfer mission to the Russian space station Mir. From January 16 to February 1, 2003, Anderson served as a mission specialist on Columbia, NASA’s oldest space shuttle. On the last day of its 16-day mission, the Columbia and her crew were lost when the orbiter broke up during re-entry over East Texas, just 16 minutes before its scheduled landing.

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Leland Melvin

Leland D. Melvin
Leland D. Melvin, former NASA astronaut, administrator, and NFL football player. Courtesy NASA.

Leland Melvin (born February 15, 1964) is an American engineer and retired NASA astronaut who left a career as a professional football player to fly in space. Before retiring in 2014, he served aboard two space shuttle missions before being named NASA associate administrator for Education in October 2010.

Born in Lynchburg, Virginia, Melvin attended Heritage High School. Attending on a football scholarship, he received a bachelor's degree in chemistry from the University of Richmond in 1985, and a Master of Science degree in materials science engineering from the University of Virginia in 1991. An outstanding football player at the University of Richmond, Melvin was selected by the Detroit Lions professional football team in the 1986 NFL draft. After a series of minor injuries ended his professional football career, he decided to focus on his true passion, space exploration.

From 1989 to 1998, Melvin worked on advanced spaceflight research and development projects at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Selected as an astronaut in June 1998, he reported for training in August 1998. Melvin went on to serve as a mission specialist aboard two missions on the space shuttle Atlantis: STS-122 from February 7 to February 20, 2008, and STS-129 from November 16 to November 29, 2009. In these two missions helping to build the International Space Station, Melvin logged over 565 hours in space. In his position as associate administrator for NASA’s Office of Education, he worked to inspire interest in science and space exploration while making the public aware of the space agency’s future goals and missions.

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Katherine Johnson

NASA space scientist, and mathematician Katherine Johnson, 1962.
NASA space scientist, and mathematician Katherine Johnson, 1962. NASA/Getty Images

Katherine Johnson (August 26, 1918—February 24, 2020) was a NASA mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics were essential to the success of America’s first and subsequent crewed spaceflights. As one of the first Black women to work as a NASA scientist, Johnson’s mastery of complex manual calculations helped pioneer the use of computers within the space agency. In recognition of her contributions as one of NASA’s unseen, yet heroic, “Hidden Figures,” Johnson was awarded both the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honors.

Born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, in 1918, Johnson’s fascination with numbers enabled her to skip ahead several grades in elementary school. By age 14, she had already graduated from high school. In 1937, at age 18, she graduated summa cum laude from West Virginia State University with degrees in mathematics and French. After teaching in Black public schools for 14 years, she went to work for the computing section of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics—the predecessor of NASA.

In 1961, as one of NASA’s “human computers,” Johnson did the trajectory analysis calculations for Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 mission, America’s first human spaceflight. In 1962, NASA had used computers to calculate the equations that would control the trajectory of the capsule in John Glenn’s historic Friendship 7 mission—America’s first Earth-orbiting crewed spaceflight. On February 20, 1962, as Glenn prepared for liftoff, he demanded that Johnson manually check the computer’s calculations for his fight. “If she says they’re good,” he told Mission Control, “then I’m ready to go.” The successful 3-orbit mission marked a turning point in the Space Race to the moon between the United States and the Soviet Union. 

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Stephanie D. Wilson

Astronaut Stephanie Wilson.
Astronaut Stephanie Wilson during a training exercise. Courtesy NASA.

Stephanie D. Wilson (born September 27, 1966) is an engineer and a NASA astronaut. The second Black woman to go into space, and a veteran of three spaceflights since 2006, her 42 days in space are the most logged by any Black astronaut, male or female. Born in Boston, Wilson attended high school in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, and earned a Bachelor of Science in engineering science from Harvard University in 1988. After working for the Martin Marietta Astronautics Group (now Lockheed Martin) for two years, she earned a Master of Science in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas in 1992. Sponsored by a NASA graduate student fellowship, her research focused on the construction and control of large, flexible space stations.

NASA selected Wilson as an astronaut in April 1996. In 2006, she flew her first space shuttle mission, a 13-day flight aboard space shuttle Discovery to make repairs to the International Space Station. In October 2007, flew on a 6.25 million mile, 15-day shuttle mission. In her latest mission, from April 5 to April 20, 2010, Wilson flew aboard Discovery to deliver more than 27,000 pounds of hardware, supplies, and experiments to the space station. From 2010 to 2012, she has served as NASA’s Space Station Integration Branch Chief and in 2017, was named head of the Mission Support Crew branch.


  • “African American Pioneers in Aviation and Space.” National Air and Space Museum, 1 Mar. 2018, airandspace.si.edu/highlighted-topics/african-american-pioneers-aviation-and-space.
  • Chandler, D.L. “Little Known Black History Fact: Black Astronauts.” Black America Web, 16 Jan. 2017, blackamericaweb.com/2017/01/16/little-known-black-history-fact-black-astronauts/.
  • Dunbar, Brian. “NASA's African-American Astronauts Fact Sheet.” NASA, NASA, 7 Feb. 2012, www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/topnav/materials/listbytype/African_American_Astronauts.html.
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Longley, Robert. "16 Black Americans in Astronomy and Space." ThoughtCo, Dec. 6, 2021, thoughtco.com/african-americans-in-astronomy-and-space-3072355. Longley, Robert. (2021, December 6). 16 Black Americans in Astronomy and Space. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/african-americans-in-astronomy-and-space-3072355 Longley, Robert. "16 Black Americans in Astronomy and Space." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/african-americans-in-astronomy-and-space-3072355 (accessed May 28, 2023).