On this Martin Luther King day, I thought it was worth looking into – and sharing – a few of the many African-American astronauts from the past and present at NASA. To keep this short, I can’t possibly highlight all of the African-Americans that have been and are currently part of the NASA astronaut program. Consider this a small sample of the diverse and inspiring individuals that boldly lead us into a new frontier!
First up, is astronaut Jeanette Epps, who was recently selected by NASA as part of Expedition 56 on the ISS in 2018. Congratulations, Jeanette!
Jeanette J. Epps (Ph.D.) earned a bachelor’s degree in physics in 1992 at LeMoyne College in her hometown of Syracuse, New York. She went on to complete a master’s of science in 1994 and a doctorate in 2000 in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland.
Jeanette was selected as an astronaut in 2009. She has been assigned to her first spaceflight, Expedition 56/57, scheduled to launch in May 2018. Her training included scientific and technical briefings, intensive instruction in International Space Station systems, spacewalk training, robotics, T-38 flight training and wilderness survival training. The New York native was a NASA Fellow during graduate school and authored several journal and conference articles. Dr. Epps worked for Ford Motor Company where she received both a provisional patent and a U.S. patent. After leaving Ford, she joined the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as a Technical Intelligence Officer before becoming an astronaut.
Born in Philadelphia, PA, on November 22, 1942. Received a Bachelor of Science in aerospace engineering from Pennsylvania State University in 1964; a Master of Science with distinction in aerospace engineering from the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1974; a doctorate of philosophy in aerospace engineering with a minor in laser physics from the Air Force Institute of Technology in 1978; and a Master in Business Administration from the University of Houston-Clear Lake in 1987. Became a NASA astronaut in August 1979. Bluford is a veteran of four space flights and was a Mission Specialist on STS-8, STS-61-A, STS-39 and STS-53.
Read Guy’s NASA Biography.
Charles F. Bolden
The current NASA administrator, nominated for the post by President Barak Obama, and began serving as administrator of the agency on July 17, 2009.
Born Aug. 19, 1946, in Columbia, S.C., Bolden graduated from C. A. Johnson High School in 1964 and received an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical science in 1968 and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Marine Corps. After completing flight training in 1970, he became a Naval Aviator. Bolden flew more than 100 combat missions in North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, while stationed in Namphong, Thailand between 1972 – 1973.
Bolden earned a Master of Science degree in systems management from the University of Southern California in 1977. In 1978, he was assigned to the Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Md., and completed his training in 1979. While working at the Naval Air Test Center’s Systems Engineering and Strike Aircraft Test Directorates, he tested a variety of ground attack aircraft until his selection as an astronaut candidate in 1980.
Bolden’s 34-year career with the Marine Corps also included 14 years as a member of NASA’s Astronaut Office. After joining the office in 1980, he traveled to orbit four times aboard the space shuttle between 1986 and 1994, commanding two of the missions and piloting two others. His flights included deployment of the Hubble Space Telescope and the first joint U.S.-Russian shuttle mission, which featured a cosmonaut as a member of his crew. He was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in May 2006.
See his biography and more information about Charles’ accomplishments.
More to Explore
I’d be remiss not to mention the new film Hidden Figures, currently in theaters, which follows the story of three African-American women in the earliest days of NASA, who played a critical role as human computers, and helped John Glenn orbit the Earth for the first time.
You can also download a NASA fact sheet from 2012 on the 12 African-American astronauts that had been selected for the program up that point.
You can also explore the NASA office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity website.