Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month: Taylor Wang, Chinese-American Astronaut

In the spring of 1985, Taylor Gun-Jin Wang became the first Chinese-American to travel into outer space. Wang had been born in the Jiangxi Province of southeast China in 1940. He and his family moved to Taiwan in 1952, and he graduated from the Affiliated Senior High School of National Taiwan University in Taipei.

Wang subsequently moved to Hong Kong, and then made his way to the United States to study physics at the University of California, Los Angeles. He received a B.S. in 1967, an M.S. the following year, and Ph.D. in 1971. Wang began work as a senior scientist at the Jet Propulsion Library in 1972. He became a U.S. citizen three years later.

Wang’s extensive work and research involving physics brought him to the attention of NASA, and in 1983 he was admitted to its astronaut program. Wang was part of the seven-person crew on STS-51-B, the 17th flight of NASA’s space shuttle program and the seventh flight of Space Shuttle Challenger. It was also the first operational mission for Spacelab, a reusable laboratory available for spaceflights. The mission took place from April 29 to May 6, 1985. By the time it was completed, Wang and his fellow crew members had traveled nearly 2.9 million miles during the course of 111 orbits around the Earth and logged more than 168 hours in space.

Wang has since been the recipient of several honors, including the Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal from NASA in 1987 and the Asian Pacific American Achievement Award from the Aerospace Asian Pacific American Association in 1989. In 1990, he addressed the United Nations General Assembly as part of the observances for “Only One Earth Day.”

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