African American female astronauts

May 31, 2024
I thought I was just going to
Photo: Courtesy of NASA, Jeanette J. Epps, Ph.D. and NASA Astronaut

I saw a photo this morning on Twitter showing a small group of black women with the tag “And they’re all NASA astronauts, too!” It got me curious, especially since it’s Black History Month. Who are these women who possess such brains and beauty? Smart enough to work at NASA and be astronauts, the childhood dream of many? I decided to dig in and find out, and I’m quite impressed by their biographies and accomplishments.

Jeanette J. Epps, Ph.D. is an Active Astronaut, meaning she is currently eligible for space missions. Originally from Syracuse, NY, she holds a bachelor of science degree in Physics from LeMoyne College and a master of science degree and doctorate of philosophy degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Maryland. She’s also a CIA officer, and she spent more than 7 years working as a Technical Intelligence Officer there. Prior to working for both NASA and the CIA, she worked for Ford as a Technical Specialist, holding both a provisional patent and a U.S. Patent.

Two more African American women currently work for NASA as astronauts, though they are both considered Management Astronauts, meaning they are not considered for space flight.

Yvonne Cagle, M.D. considers Novato, CA her hometown. She’s a retired Colonel in the U.S. Air Force as well as a medical doctor. According to her NASA biography:

[Cagle] received a Bachelor of Arts in Biochemistry from San Francisco State University in 1981, and a Doctorate in Medicine from the University of Washington in 1985. Transitional internship at Highland General Hospital, Oakland, California, in 1985. Received certification in Aerospace Medicine from the School of Aerospace Medicine at Brooks Air Force Base, Texas, in 1988. Completed residency in at Ghent Family Practice at Eastern Virginia Medical School in 1992. Received certification as a senior aviation medical examiner from the Federal Aviation Administration in 1995. Received an honorary Ph.D. in Humanities from Fordham University in 2014. Cagle earned multiple awards and medals while in the Air Force, including the National Defense Service Medal, Air Force Achievement Medal, U.S. Air Force Air Staff Exceptional Physician Commendation, and the National Technical Association Distinguished Scientist Award. Cagle was selected by NASA in 1996 and is qualified for flight assignment as a mission specialist. According to NASA, Cagle’s groundbreaking work is preserving historic NASA space legacy data while, simultaneously, galvanizing NASA’s lead in global mapping, sustainable energies, green initiatives and disaster preparedness.

The third and final African American woman astronaut at NASA is Stephanie D. Wilson, who joined NASA in 1996. From Boston, MA, Wilson holds a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Science from Harvard University and a Master of Science degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas. Wilson worked two years for the former Martin Marietta Astronautics Group in Denver, Colorado. As a loads and dynamics engineer for Titan IV, Wilson was responsible for performing coupled loads analyses for the launch vehicle and payloads during flight events. Wilson left Martin Marietta in 1990 to attend graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin.

After joining NASA as an astronaut, Wilson served as a Capsule Communicator (CAPCOM) in the Astronaut Office CAPCOM branch, working in the Mission Control Center as a prime communicator with several space shuttle and space station crews. Wilson has also participated heavily in numerous space missions, including several International Space Station (ISS) missions, operating complex robotic equipment in order to complete the specific mission goals.

There you have it. A too-small, but quite impressive contingent of smart, capable, and technical African American woman astronauts. They are an inspiration to girls during Black History Month or any other time. I hope you enjoyed learning about them as much as I did.

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