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African Americans That Paved the Way: These Black Americans Have Made History in Space

With Black History Month approaching, we remember African Americans who have contributed greatly to our understanding of outer space. For centuries, Black American scientists have been exploring space and making groundbreaking discoveries despite laws that denied them the same rights as their white colleagues. Today, some of these African American scientists have become NASA senior leaders. Here are five of them.

Benjamin Banneker

Born in 1731, Benjamin Banneker was one of the foremost Black Americans to contribute to astronomy and space science. As a freeman raised on a farm in Maryland, he was a self-educated mathematician, astronomer, author, and surveyor.

He was the author of one of the first almanacs series, which accurately predicted the positions of the planets, the Moon, and the Sun. A year earlier, he accurately predicted a solar eclipse that happened in 1789. He also openly expressed his support for abolition.

Katherine Johnson

Born in 1918, Katherine Johnson was a mathematician and one of the first women to work as a NASA scientist. She was so good with numbers that she graduated high school at age 14 and with Mathematics and French degrees from West Virginia State University at age 18. 

Courtesy: Wikipedia

She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and Congressional Gold Medal. Her orbital mechanics calculations were crucial to the success of America’s first and successive crewed spaceflights.

Robert Henry Lawrence

Born in 1935, Robert Henry Lawrence was the first Black American astronaut. After earning a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Bradley University in 1956, he completed the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB, California, in 1967.

Courtesy: Chicago Tribune

Although, unfortunately, he couldn’t fly in space because he died in a flight training accident in 1967, his Air Force test pilot experience greatly helped NASA’s crewed spaceflight program. As the first African American to be selected by NASA, Robert gave other Black Americans hope.

Guion Stewart Bluford Jr.

Born in 1942, Guion Stewart, Jr. is an American aerospace engineer and retired U.S. Air Force fighter pilot. He became the first African American to fly in space aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1983. He is a member of the International Space Hall of Fame and the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Courtesy: Wikipedia

As an Air Force fighter, Guion was on 144 combat missions during the Vietnam War. He was assigned NASA astronaut in 1979; between 1983 and 1992, he served on four space missions, including STS-53, STS-39, STS-61-A, and STS-8.

Stephanie D. Wilson

Born in 1966, Stephanie Wilson is an engineer and NASA astronaut; she was the second black woman to go into space. However, she set new space records; her 42 days in space are the most logged by any African American astronaut, male or female.


Selected as a NASA astronaut in 1996, she became head of the Mission Support Crew branch in 2017. Between that time, she flew her first, second, and third space shuttle missions in 2006, 2007, and 2010 respectively.

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