Since the first African American surpassed Earth’s stratosphere and traveled to space in 1942, Black people have been a part of out-of-this-world processes launched in the USA.
Whether serving as the brains behind the operation, to sitting in the pilot’s seat on space missions, to personally walking among the stars, these are the Black astronauts, astrophysicists, and astronomical scientists that have contributed to the exploration of space and expanded our knowledge of the cosmos.
Doctor Beth A. Brown:
In her 39 brief years, this astrophysicist led research in X-ray observations of black holes and elliptical galaxies, expanding our knowledge of the mysteries of deep space anomalies. She received her Bachelor’s in astrophysics from Howard University and became the first African American woman to earn a Ph.D in Astronomy from the University of Michigan. She was also sure to reach back to educate the next generation: she developed a “naked-eye astronomy” course at Michigan and taught classes at Howard University’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.
The NASA Astronaut and Naval Captain logged over 901 hours in space. 45 of those hours were spent establishing himself as the current record-holder for the most spacewalks in a single spaceflight, with a grand total of four walks achieved on his 2006 journey aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery.
Officially the first Black American to leave the stratosphere, Bluford spent 15 years as a NASA astronaut, breaking ground through innovation while launching top-secret government satellites and testing robotic apparatuses on various missions to space.
As a geoscientist, explorer, astronaut, and afro-futurist space artist, Proctor is currently reaching for the cosmos by pushing for expanded representation for women of color in the space industry. She has completed four analog space missions, including two to Mars, and pilots the Inspiration4 all-civilian orbital mission as the first African American commercial astronaut.
Though the former NFL defensive end and current daytime talk show host may seem like an unlikely entry on this list, it turns out that Strahan has made his own brand of history among the stars by becoming the first African American space tourist. Strahan’s December 2021 flight aboard the Jeff Bezos-funded space exploration Blue Origin NS-19 also marked his slot in history as the first HBCU-educated individual, the first NFL Hall-of-Famer, and the first American Journalist to take a leisure flight to the cosmos.
With her path already paved by Black woman astronauts like Mae C. Jemison, Stephanie Wilson, and Joan Higgenbottom, Watkins is poised to join their exclusive club – surpassing them all by spending a record amount of time in space. This month, Watkins will become the first Black woman on the International Space Station for an extended mission, also becoming the first Black woman to spend six full months in space while observing and documenting Earth’s geological changes from above.