According to the Federation Aéronautique Internationale (FAI), 631 people have been to space, with around 70 of them being women. Only five Black women have made the history of crossing the Kármán line out of the 70 women.
Crossing the Kármán line, according to FAI, is the condition for deciding someone has accomplished spaceflight. Because airplanes and spacecraft are subject to distinct authorities and treaties, the Kármán line is an acceptable boundary between the earth’s atmosphere and outer space. It is employed in defining the edge of space for legal and regulatory purposes.
Valentina Vladimirovna of Russia was the first woman to travel into space, from June 16 to 19, 1963. She was launched into orbit on Vostok, completing 45 orbits of the Earth in a 70-hour 50-minute space trip. Valentina Savitskaya, another woman, accomplished the feat 19 years later. She was the first woman to complete a spacewalk and the first woman to travel to space twice.
Mae Carol Jemison became the first African woman to journey into space in 1992, 29 years after Vladimirovna’s accomplishment. She travelled to orbit aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor as a mission specialist.
Below are the only five Black women who have ever traveled into space:
1. Mae Jemison
Mae Carol Jemison was born on October 17, 1956, in Decatur, Alabama, United States of America. She is a retired NASA astronaut, engineer, and physician from the United States. In 1973, she graduated from Morgan Park High School and enrolled in Stanford University, where she served as the President of the Black Students Union. Stanford University awarded her a B.S. in chemical engineering as well as a B.A. in African American studies. Jemison earned her M.D. from Cornell Medical School in 1981.
She applied to NASA’s astronaut training program in 1987 and was one of 15 people chosen from a pool of over 2000 applicants. She was a member of NASA Astronaut Group 12. On September 28, 1989, she was chosen as one of seven members of the Space Shuttle Endeavor crew for mission STS-47 (a collaborative mission between the U.S. and Japan). She flew her lone space mission as Mission Specialist 4 from September 12 to September 20, 1992. Jemison was in space for 7 days, 22 hours, 30 minutes, and 0 seconds, orbiting the Earth 127 times. After returning from space, she resigned from NASA in March 1993.
2. Stephanie Wilson
Stephanie Diana Wilson is a NASA astronaut and American engineer who was born on September 27, 1966, in Boston, Massachusetts. She attended Taconic High School in Pittsfield and earned a Bachelor of Science in engineering science from Harvard University in 1988 and a Master of Science in aeronautical engineering from the University of Texas in 1992. Wilson is only the second African-American woman in space.
She travelled to space on three different Space Missions and spent a total of 42 days, 23 hours, and 46 minutes in space, making her the second African-American female astronaut to spend a significant amount of time in orbit after Jessica Watkins. Wilson was a member of the STS-121 Space Mission to the International Space Station (July 4 – 17, 2006). She was a crew member on the STS-120 Space Shuttle Mission (October 23 – November 7, 2007), a 6.25 million mile trip to the International Space Station (ISS) that delivered the Harmony Connecting Module and reconfigured the P6 truss.
She also flew in the STS-131 (April 5 – 20, 2010) mission to the ISS. She is part of the Artemis team since 2017 – a team of eighteen astronauts preparing for a scheduled return to the moon by 2024.
3. Joan Higginbotham
Joan Elizabeth Higginbotham is a former NASA astronaut who was born on August 3, 1964, in Chicago, Illinois, USA. She attended Whitney Young Magnet High School and earned a Bachelor of Science from Southern Illinois University Carbondale in 1987, a Master of Management Science in 1992, and a Master of Space Systems in 1996, all from the Florida Institute of Technology.
She began her NASA career at the Kennedy Space Center in 1987. She was chosen as an astronaut candidate in April 1996 and was a part of the STS-116 Space Shuttle Discovery Mission to the International Space Station, which launched on December 9, 2006. She was in space for 12 days, 20 hours, 45 minutes, and 16 seconds. Higginbotham is the third African-American female astronaut. She resigned from NASA while preparing for a second flight to space (STS-126).
4. Dr. Sian Proctor
Sian Hayley Proctor is a commercial astronaut, geology professor, and scientific communicator from Hagta, Guam. She was born on March 28, 1970. She teaches geology at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix and serves as a Major in the Civil Air Patrol. She piloted the Crew Dragon Space Capsule, which was launched into Earth’s orbit on September 15, 2021. The Crew Dragon Space Mission was the first human spaceflight mission that consisted entirely of civilians. Dr. Proctor became the first African-American woman to operate a spacecraft and the fourth African-American woman to journey into space as a result of the mission. She was in space for 2 days, 23 hours, and 3 minutes.
5. Jessica Watkins
Jessica Andrea Watkins is a former rugby player and NASA astronaut who was born on May 14, 1988, in Gaithersburg, Maryland. She attended Fairview High School in Boulder, Colorado, and went on to obtain a Bachelor of Science in geological and environmental sciences from Stanford University, as well as a Ph.D. in geology from the University of California.
She began her NASA career as an undergraduate and went on to hold a variety of positions following graduation, including Chief Geologist for NASA Spaceward Bound Crew 86 at the Mars Desert Research Station. Watkins, who was chosen as an astronaut candidate in 2017, made history when she and a crew launched into orbit aboard the SpaceX Dragon from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in April 2022. She was the first Black woman to serve on the International Space Station for an extended period of time. She is a member of the Artemis Team, which was chosen in 2020 for the anticipated return of humans to the moon in 2024/2025.