February 8, 2012

In Recognition of Black History Month....

I have been posting daily, on Facebook, African Americans who have positively impacted history. Since I am a bit of a "NASA Nerd", this week I decided to profile African Americans who have made contributions to NASA and space exploration.

Here are three (3) African American women who have traveled into space. I will profile the men in another blog later this month.

Dr. Mae Jemison.  Dr. Jemison made history on September 12, 1992 when she became the 1st African American female to fly in space. Dr. Jemison was born October 17, 1956, in Decatur, Alabama. Dr. Jemison received a Bachelor of Science degree in chemical engineering (as well as completing the requirements for a B.A. in African and Afro-American Studies) from Stanford University in 1977 and earned her doctorate degree in medicine from Cornell University in 1981. Dr. Jemison speaks four languages: English, Russian, Swahili, and Japanese. Dr. Jemison was selected for the astronaut program in June 1987. Dr. Jemison was the science mission specialist on Endeavour (September 12-20, 1992). Dr. Jemison was a co-investigator on the bone cell research experiment, conducted during this mission. The experiments were to learn the effects of micro-gravity on human cells. In completing her first space flight, Dr. Jemison logged 190 hours, 30 minutes, 23 seconds in space.

Stephanie Wilson. Stephanie was the 2nd African American woman in space (after Dr. Mae Jemison). Wilson was born on September 27, 1966 in Boston, MA. Wilson received her received a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering science from Harvard University in 1988. In 1992, Wilson earned a Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas. Wilson was selected by NASA, for the astronaut program, in 1996. Wilson completed three space flights, as a Mission Specialist, aboard Space Shuttle Discovery (July 4 to 17, 2006, October 23 to November 7, 2007, & April 5 to April 20, 2010). During all three of her space flights, Wilson was responsible for robotic arm operations and supporting the astronauts assigned to complete EVAs (Extra-vehicular activity aka spacewalks).  Wilson operated the robotic arm which was used to continue assembly of the International Space Station. Wilson has logged more than 42 days in space. Prior to her space flights, Wilson worked in the Astronaut Office Shuttle Operations Branch, some of her duties involved working with the space shuttle main engines, external tank, and solid rocket boosters. To read Wilson's full NASA  bio, go to http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/wilson.html.

Joan Higginbotham. Higginbotham was the 3rd African American woman in space (after Dr. Mae Jemison the 1st & Stephanie Wilson the 2nd). Higginbotham was born August 3, 1964 in Chicago, Illinois. Higginbotham received a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale in 1987. She has two master’s degrees, one in Management from Florida Institute of Technology (1992) and the other in Space Systems from Florida Institute of Technology (1996). Higginbotham was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in April 1996. Prior to her space flight, Higginbotham worked in various areas, as an Engineer, supporting shuttle launches. Higginbotham’s 1st and only space flight was as a mission specialist aboard Space Shuttle Discovery, where she was one of two African American crew members. This mission lasted from December 9-22, 2006.  Higginbotham’s primary duty was to operate the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) and continue construction of the International Space Station. Higginbotham logged over 308 hours in space.  Higginbotham was assigned to the STS-126 mission targeted for launch in September, 2008; however, Higginbotham retired from NASA prior to this mission. To read Higginbotham's full NASA bio, go to http://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/higginbo.html.

February 1, 2012

In Memory of Space Shuttle Columbia

February 1, 2003...it was a beautiful, sunny Saturday morning. The skies were blue and the temperature was mild. I'd just finished my morning workout and had taken a shower. As I dressed and prepared for the day, I turned on the TV. As the TV came on, I remembered that space shuttle Columbia was due to land that day. I quickly began searching for the TV channel that would be showing the landing live. After Columbia was safely on the ground, I'd planned to set out for the day in search of a new apartment.

My excitement turned to concern when I noticed that numerous channels were reporting that mission control had lost contact with Columbia. Then I recalled reading something awhile back which stated there is a certain point, during the shuttle's re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, where mission control has no contact for a minute or so. I continued getting dressed and planning my day as the news reports continued. At some point, my concern turned to worry when the new reports stated that mission control had been out of contact with the shuttle for over 15 minutes at this point. I said a quick prayer and began cleaning up before leaving. But 15 minutes turned into 20 minutes, then 30 minutes...Columbia still had not landed. At this point, the housework had stopped and I was glued to the TV but still thinking (and probably trying to convince myself) "ahh all is well, the communication system is probably not working." Surely there is not going to be another shuttle disaster......

Sometime between 9:30am and 10m, the TV proved me to be wrong as they showed a trail of what was space shuttle Columbia, streaking across the Texas sky. Sad and in disbelief, I remember calling my mother and saying "we lost another one".  Just then, my aunt who lives in Georgia called me. She asked me if I was at home and if I was safe, I said "yes". She asked me if I'd heard the news about Columbia, I told her I was watching it at that very moment.  I recall her begging me to stay inside, for fear I'd be in the path of falling debris. I assured her all was well where I was.

I went out that day in search of a new apartment....but with a heavy heart knowing that 7 astronauts lives had just ended. I felt much like I did when I was a 15-year old sophomore in high school, sitting in Biology class....and hearing the news that Challenger had exploded.

Later that day, I was reminded of how diverse the Columbia crew was, much like Challenger's crew. Michael Anderson was African American, Ilan Ramon was the 1st Israeli Astronaut, Kalpana Chalwa was from India.

February 1, 2012, 9 years later.....Columbia crew, we salute you, we thank you, we admire you, we will never forget you. God bless you.

                                                          Space Shuttle Columbia Crew
From left to right (back row): David Brown, Laurel Clark, Michael Anderson, Ilan Ramon
From left to right (front row): Rick Husband, Kalpana Chalwa, William McCool

                                            Columbia Crew posing for a photo while in space.

Columbia blasting off on January 16, 2003

                                                       Space Shuttle Columbia Insignia