Diversity in Space
More than 25 years ago, NASA selected a new class of astronauts that was unlike any that had come before it. In 1978, in order to prepare for the upcoming Space Shuttle program, NASA selected a group of astronaut candidates with a wide variety of backgrounds that brought a wealth of knowledge and experience to the new program. That variety brought diversity of a different sort, as well, as NASA selected its first African-American and female astronauts.
Some of their names may be known to you. You may have heard of Guion "Guy" Bluford and Mae Jemison. Bluford became NASA's first African-American astronaut to fly in space on the STS-8 mission in 1983, the first of his four spaceflights. On the STS-47 mission of the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992, Jemison became the first African-American female in space. While Bluford and Jemison may be among some of NASA's best-known astronauts, African-Americans are making important contributions to NASA's astronaut corps today.
Image to right: Guion Bluford (left) and Mae Jemison are among the best-known astronauts of the Space Shuttle era. Credit: NASA
Among those is Fred Gregory, who holds one of NASA's top jobs. The agency's deputy administrator since 2002, he was tapped to serve as its acting head after the departure of administrator Sean O'Keefe in February 2005. The first African-American Space Shuttle pilot, Gregory also became the first African-American to command a spaceflight when he led the STS-33 mission of Discovery in 1989. After his third and final flight in 1991, Gregory has worked his way up through the management at NASA.
Image to left: Fred Gregory was recently named as NASA's acting administrator. Credit: NASA
Stephanie Wilson has been assigned an important role in the Space Shuttle's Return to Flight. A graduate of Harvard, Wilson is scheduled to make her first spaceflight in summer 2005 as a mission specialist on the STS-121 flight of Atlantis, the second mission after Shuttles begin flying again. The STS-121 mission was added to the schedule as a complement to the STS-114 Return to Flight mission, helping to resume Shuttle support of the International Space Station and to complete tasks involved in making sure the Shuttle is prepared to safely complete its remaining duties.
Image to right: Stephanie Wilson is a member of the STS-121 Space Shuttle crew. Credit: NASA
Dr. Robert Satcher is one of NASA's newest members, selected in last year's class of astronaut candidates and currently undergoing the training needed to become an astronaut. Satcher holds two doctorates: a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and an M.D. from Harvard Medical School. He has experience as physician and as an assistant professor.
Image to left: Robert Satcher is one of NASA's newest astronaut candidates. Credit: NASA
Among NASA's greatest heroes is astronaut Mike Anderson, who perished in February 2003 in the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia on its STS-107 mission. Anderson was serving as the payload commander on the mission, his second spaceflight, when the Shuttle was lost during reentry. Despite the tragedy, some of the results of the scientific research the crew conducted were saved, and serve as a lasting legacy of the crew's efforts.
Image to right: Michael Anderson served as payload commander for STS-107. Credit: NASA
As NASA and the nation celebrate Black History Month, it's a time to reflect not only on the past, but on the future, as well. As NASA prepares to return to the moon and travel onward to Mars, the agency will require the contributions of a diverse workforce bringing a multitude of experiences, working together for a common vision.