African American Transportation History: Stephanie Wilson, Astronaut

In the summer of 2006, Stephanie Diana Wilson became the second African American woman to fly into outer space. (The first African American woman to do so was Mae Jemison, who made that pioneering flight in 1992.) Wilson has also achieved another distinction during her NASA career. She has spent more time in outer space – a total of 42 days, 23 hours, and 46 minutes – than any other female African American astronaut.

Wilson was born in Boston in 1966. As she recalled in a 2006 interview, her interest in a career involving space exploration first took firm hold while she was a student at Crosby Junior High School in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. As an assignment for a career awareness class that she was taking, Wilson had to interview someone in a profession that might be of interest to her. She ended up interviewing an astronomy professor at a nearby college.

“I thought that astronomy was a fantastic career, being able to teach, being able to see events in the heavens and to do the observations,” Wilson recounted. “Later, I became more interested in engineering and decided that I would study engineering in college and perhaps that aerospace engineering would be a good combination of my interests in astronomy and my interest in engineering.”

After graduating from Taconic High School in Pittsfield in 1984, Wilson attended Harvard University. She graduated from there in 1988 with a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering science. Wilson then attended the University of Texas at Austin and graduated from there in 1992 with a Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering.

Prior to being selected by NASA as an astronaut candidate in 1996, Wilson worked at both Martin Marietta (now part of Lockheed Martin) and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. After the completion of her training as an astronaut candidate, she was assigned to technical duties on behalf of the Astronaut Office Space Station Operations Branch. Wilson’s subsequent work experience included service in the Astronaut Office Shuttle Operations Branch. She also worked on NASA’s mission control team as prime communicator with on-orbit flight crews.

For Wilson’s first expedition into outer space, she was a mission specialist on board Space Shuttle Discovery for its STS-121 flight to and from the International Space Station (ISS). One of the major reasons for STS-121 was to test new safety and repair techniques that NASA had been developed after the fatal disintegration of Space Shuttle Columbia in 2003.

The successful launch for the STS-121 mission took place at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida on July 4, 2006. This was the only shuttle launch to occur on Independence Day. The mission concluded its mission 13 days later with a safe return to KSC.

Wilson’s next spaceflight occurred between October 23 and November 7, 2007, when she was part of the crew on board Space Shuttle Discovery for the STS-120 mission to and from ISS. For this expedition, Wilson again served as a mission specialist. Wilson was also a mission specialist for the STS-131 flight of Space Shuttle Discovery between KSC and ISS from April 5 to 20, 2010. Wilson’s other key contributions to NASA’s space exploration efforts have included serving as ground controller at Johnson Space Center in Texas for the first all-female spacewalk carried out by Christina Koch and Jessica Meir in 2019.

Wilson has received several awards for her accomplishments. These awards include the NASA Space Flight Medal and NASA Distinguished Service Medal.

For more information on Stephanie Wilson, please check out Stephanie D. Wilson | NASA and Stephanie Wilson – Wikipedia Additional information on African American astronauts is available at NASA’s African-American Astronauts

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