ABOVE PHOTO: Mae Jemison
Black women have been proud pioneers in space and aviation since 1922. They faced insurmountable odds only to demonstrate their strength and determination in making their dreams come true.
In a time when math and science are subjects that women still struggle to reach equality in, it is good to look at the women who looked past the biased opinions and focused on their goals.
While earning a dual degree in chemical engineering and African-American studies at Stanford University, Jemison became fluent in Japanese, Russian, and Swahili. She then went on to get her medical degree at Cornell University and later served in the Peace Corps in Sierra Leon and Liberia.
When she got home from the Peace Corps, Jemison applied to be an astronaut at NASA. Her first application was rejected but the second time she applied she was one of the 15 selected to participate. She finished her training in 1988, becoming the fifth black astronaut and first black female astronaut in history. In 1992 she became the first black woman to go into space.
Wilson was the second black female astronaut in NASA’s history. She began training in 1996 and since then she has been on three Space Shuttles missions and worked on the International Space Station. Women are still a minority at NASA and Wilson commented that, “We are finding that women aren’t studying math and science, which are required to become an astronaut. Numbers are increasing but they are still low, and so the pool of applicants for women is still low.”
Two weeks after Higginbotham graduated from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, NASA recruited her to become their newest electrical engineer at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Her work was so impressive that she was selected to train as an astronaut in 1996. In 2006 she went on a seven-member crew mission on the space shuttle Discovery, and then retired to work in the private sector in 2007.
Cagle grew up with parents in the Air Force and was motivated to pursue her own career in flying. She received her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from San Francisco State University and her medical degree from the University of Washington. She later got certified in Aerospace Medicine at the Brooks Air Force Base in 1988. After serving during the Gulf War, Cagle applied to NASA and was one of only 25 candidates accepted. She hasn’t been to space yet, but she is an occupational medicine physician at the Johnson Space Center.