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Going the Distance: African-Americans in Space

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Space Exploration

In the mid-20th century, America pushed for the advancement of science and technology. When virtually every piece of land on earth seems to have been discovered, scholars turned to space exploration. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was instituted to investigate the mysteries of the universe. Apollo missions educate us about the moon, several space rovers constantly orbit the earth, and the mission to Mars, seeking to answer whether the Red Planet was once inhabited by any life form.

Space flight programs have captured the interest of many Americans. Even President George W. Bush is excited about the mission to Mars. These are extraordinary missions that require the services of extraordinary people called astronauts. They man space operations, risking their lives to study outer space. Due to the delicate responsibilities at hand, only the best can become astronauts. For many, wearing a spacesuit and journeying to outer space is just a wild dream.

Although possibilities are restricted, many African-Americans have aimed for that dream, worked for it, and literally reached for the stars. They showed that black Americans can also be at home outside our atmosphere.

African-American astronauts

Guion Guy Bluford - First African-American in Space

Fast Facts
Name: US Air Force Colonel Guion S. Bluford (Retired)
Birth date: November 22, 1942
Birthplace: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Secondary: Overbrook Senior High School
Tertiary: BS- Aerospace Engineering, Pennsylvania State University, 1964
Graduate Studies: MS- Aerospace Engineering, Air Force Institute of Technology, 1974, Master in Business Administration, Houston University, 1987
Doctor of Philosophy, Aerospace Engineering, Air Force Institute of Technology, 1978 1

Guion Guy Bluford, just like most African-Americans of his generation, was discouraged to specialize into any particular field by his high school counselor. He obviously ignored this advice, for he became well-educated in Aerospace Engineering.

After college, Guy joined the military. He went to flight school training, and later on was attached to the 557th Tactical Squadron Division. During the Vietnam War, he engaged in 144 combat missions. He also became a flight instructor at Sheppard Air Force Base in Texas.

In 1978, Guy was chosen to undergo the Astronaut training program. From 10,000 aspiring astronauts, only 35 of them were selected. In August 1979, Guy became a certified astronaut.

On August 20, 1983, Guy was assigned in his first mission. Orbiting the earth for 98 times aboard the space shuttle Challenger, Guy made history by becoming the first African-American in outer space. Thereafter, he flew in three more space shuttle missions.

After a successful career with NASA, Guy retired in 1993. Presently, he manages the Science and Engineering Group, Aerospace Sector of the Federal Data Corporation in Maryland. Throughout his life, he has received much recognition for his service in both the Air Force and NASA. In 1997, he was inducted to the International Space Hall of Fame. (Greene)2

Frederick D. Gregory- First African-American Deputy Administrator of NASA

Fast Facts
Name: US Air Force Colonel Frederick D. Gregory (Retired)
Birth date: January 7, 1941
Birthplace: Washington, D.C.
Secondary: Anacostia High School, 1958
Tertiary: Bachelor of Science degree, United States Air Force Academy, 1964
Graduate Studies: Masters in Information Systems, George Washington University, 1977 3

Graduating in the United States Air Force Academy at a time when the US military involvement in Vietnam was increasing, Gregory was tapped to carry out combat missions, of which he flew 550 overall. 2 Distinguished Flying Crosses and 16 Air medals were among his many awards.

He became an astronaut in January, 1978, and has had numerous space flight experiences since. He was not only part of the space crew; Colonel Gregory has assumed many leadership responsibilities aboard space shuttles. He was the Spacecraft Commander of Discovery in 1989 and Atlantis in 1991. His space hours totaled 455.

Equipped with skills in management, he was assigned as the Associate Administrator for the Office of Space Flight in February 2002. Eventually, he was appointed as NASAs Deputy Administrator in August 2002, the first African-American to hold this position.4

Mae C. Jemison- First African-American woman in space

Fast facts
Name: Mae C. Jemison (M.D.)
Birth Date: October 17, 1956
Birthplace: Decatur, Alabama
Secondary: Morgan Park High School, Chicago, 1973
Tertiary: BS - Chemical Engineering, Stanford University, 1977
Graduate Studies: Doctorate degree in Medicine, Cornell University, 1981 5

Mae had always been interested in science and the universe. As a child, she frequented the planetarium to learn more about the heavenly bodies. Her parents supported her in all her interests and ambitions.

After years of schooling, she practiced her degrees in engineering and medicine. She joined the Peace Corps as a medical officer in West Africa. She also worked as a full time doctor in Los Angeles. To satisfy her childhood fancy, she went to NASA in 1987. Armed with knowledge in the medical field, Jemison took part in science experiments.

On September 12, 1992, her journey aboard the space shuttle Endeavor was a milestone, making her the first African-American woman in outer space.

Because of her love for the environment, Jemison founded two organizations to help her address global issues concerning nature. These are the Jemison Institute for Advancing Technology in Developing Countries and The Earth We Share

For the breakthroughs she has achieved, Dr. Mae Jemison has cemented her place as one of the most outstanding women of the country, reminding everyone how far a woman could go in her career.6

Bernard Harris - first African-American to walk in space

Fast Facts
Name: Bernard A. Harris, Jr. (M.D)
Birth Date: June 26, 1956
Birthplace: Temple, Texas
Secondary: Sam Houston High School, Texas, 1974
Tertiary: BS- Biology, University of Houston, 1978
Graduate Studies: Doctorate in Medicine, Texas Tech University School of Medicine, 1982
Masters in Biomedical Science, University of Texas Medical Branch, 1996. 7

Before putting on his space gear, Dr. Bernard Harris was concentrating on medical research, specifically on musculoskeletal physiology and disuse osteoporosis. He was a professor for various medical schools, as well as an author of scientific readings. Initially, he joined the NASA Johnson Space Center as a medical practitioner.

In July, 1991, he officially became a NASA astronaut. He has participated in two space flights. His first experience was aboard Columbia as a mission specialist. After which, he became the Payload Commander of the first flight of the newly formed Russian-American space program back in February 1995.

It was in this flight that Dr. Bernard Harris became the first African-American to walk in space. He spacewalked for 198 hours and 29 minutes, covering 2.9 million miles. 8

Going the Distance

The trend continues. There are endless possibilities in computer technology, medicine, transportation and other fields. After all, one of Americas strong cornerstones is its diverse people, who are not satisfied to live within the confines of present knowledge, but strive for continuous expansion and progress in all arenas.

1. Astronaut Bio: Guion S. Bluford Jr. http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/bluford-gs.html
2. Nick Green. First African-American in Space. http://space.about.com/cs/formerastronauts/a/guionbluford.htm
3. Astronaut Bio: Frederick D. Gregory. http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/gregory-fd.html
4. Frederick D. Gregory. NASA Deputy Administrator. http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/gregory.htm
5. Astronaut Bio: Mae C. Jemison http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/jemison-mc.html
6. Dr. Mae C. Jemison. http://www.nwhp.org/tlp/biographies/jemison/jemison-bio.html
7. Astronaut Bio: Bernard A. Harris http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/harris.html
8. National Spokesperson Bernard Harris. http://www.aman.org/about/spokesperson.html
Pictures from the Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center Website

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