Black History Month: NASA’s African American astronauts

(top row l-r) Charles F. Bolden Jr., NASA Administrator, Yvonne Darlene Cagle, Michael Anderson and Robert L. Curbeam Jr. (second row l-r) Guion S. Bluford Jr. Benjamin Alvin Drew, Jeanette J. Epps, and Ronald E. McNair, Ph.D.(third row l-r) Frederick D. Gregory, Leland D. Melvin, Bernard A. Harris Jr., and Bobby Satcher (bottom row l-r) Joan E. Higginbotham, Winston E. Scott, Mae C. Jemison, M.D., and Stephanie D. Wilson            photos: NASA

(top row l-r) Charles F. Bolden Jr., NASA Administrator, Yvonne Darlene Cagle, Michael Anderson and Robert L. Curbeam Jr. (second row l-r) Guion S. Bluford Jr. Benjamin Alvin Drew, Jeanette J. Epps, and Ronald E. McNair, Ph.D.(third row l-r) Frederick D. Gregory, Leland D. Melvin, Bernard A. Harris Jr., and Bobby Satcher (bottom row l-r) Joan E. Higginbotham, Winston E. Scott, Mae C. Jemison, M.D., and Stephanie D. Wilson photos: NASA

African American astronauts in the United States Space program include several courageous Americans who have made significant contributions to human space exploration, with a few more waiting in the wings.

Although he never got to fly in space, Maj. Robert Lawrence was the first African American selected for astronaut training by NASA in a proposed Air Force space program called the Manned Orbiting Laboratory, but died in a plane crash during a training mission in 1967.

The first African American to actually fly into space was Air Force Col. Guion ‘Guy’ Bluford, Jr., who became a NASA astronaut in 1979. He completed four space flights, STS-8, STS 61-A, STS-39, and STS-53, as a mission specialist, logging over 688 hours in space.

Dr. Ronald McNair was the second African American to orbit the Earth. Selected as an astronaut candidate January 1978, he was mission specialist on STS 41-B in 1984. He died with six other crewmembers when Challenger exploded shortly after launch on his second mission, STS 51-L, January 28, 1986.

Fredrick Gregory was the first African American to pilot and command a Space Shuttle mission. Selected as an astronaut in 1978, he flew on STS-51-B, STS-33, and STS-44.

Charles F. Bolden, Jr., selected as an astronaut in 1980, flew on four missions, STS-61-C, STS-31, STS-45, and STS-60. Bolden became the 12th administrator of NASA on July 17, 2009 and is currently serving.

Mae Jemison is the first African American woman to fly in space, selected into the astronaut program in 1987 and mission specialist on STS-47, logged over 190 hours in space.

Bernard A. Harris, Jr. was the first African American to walk in space. Selected for the astronaut class of 1990, he flew as a mission specialist on STS-55, and was Payload Commander on STS-63.

Capt. Winston E. Scott, selected by NASA in March 1992, was mission specialist on STS-72 and STS-87, completing an EVA (spacewalk) on each flight. Wrote the 2005 book Reflections From Earth Orbit.

Capt. Robert Curbeam is a veteran of seven spacewalks during three space shuttle flights, STS-85, STS-98, and STS-116, where he logged over 901 hours in space.

Lt. Col. Michael Anderson, selected in December 1994, flew on two missions, STS-89 Endeavour and STS-107 Columbia, logging over 593 hours in space. Anderson perished during re-entry February 1, 2003 with the other members of the Columbia crew.
Stephanie Wilson, selected as an astronaut candidate in April 1996, flew on three missions, STS-121, STS-120, and STS-131, logging over 42 days in space.

Joan Higginbotham flew on one mission, STS-116 on Discovery, spending over 12 days in space.
Col. Benjamin Alvin Drew, Jr., selected as mission specialist in July 2000, has flown on two missions, STS-118 and STS-133, logging over 612 hours in space.

Leland D. Melvin, selected into the Astronaut Corps in 1998, served as mission specialist on two space shuttle missions to the ISS, STS-122 and STS-129.

Dr. Dr. Robert L. Satcher, Jr., Ph.D. from MIT and M.D from Harvard, was selected by NASA to be an Astronaut Candidate in 2004, flew on the 31st shuttle flight to the International Space Station, STS-129 Atlantis, performing two spacewalks totaling EVA 12 hours and 19 minutes.

Four other African Americans have been selected by NASA as astronauts and have not as yet had the opportunity to fly in space. They include: Livingston Holder, Michael E. Belt, Yvonne Cagle, and Jeanette J. Epps.