This month’s Kickass Women in History takes us to outer space with Stephanie Wilson. NASA astronaut Stephanie Wilson is the second African American woman to go to space (Mae Jemison, another kickass woman, was the first). She has also, as of this writing, logged more days in space than any other African American, and she served on a mission with three other women, which set a record for the number of women in space at one time.
Stephanie grew up in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. When she was in middle school, she interviewed an astronomer for a school project. She points to this interview as the moment she decided that she wanted to be an astronaut. Her father, an electrical engineer, encouraged her to pursue engineering as a career, and Stephanie realized that aerospace engineering would combine her interest in engineering and her interest in astronomy.
She has a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering from Harvard University, and a Master of Science degree in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas. She was accepted into the NASA astronaut-training program in 1996.
Here’s a description from Stephanie of one of the more dangerous moments she faced in space:
Well, one thing that sticks out, on my second flight, STS-120, we had some trouble deploying a solar array, and during the deploy the port six solar array tore. That was almost very similar to an Apollo 13–like moment. The teams on the ground, the EVA teams, the robotic teams, our flight directors, our structural and mechanics personnel all came together to come up with a plan to repair this solar array only using the materials that we had on board.
They sent up procedures for us to fabricate cuff links that a spacewalker would install to bridge over the tear to give the array some structural stiffness to complete the deploy. So, we put together with the help with our ground team a spacewalk and robotics procedures that we hadn’t seen before. It was very complex, but very memorable that as part of this larger team we were able to deploy the solar array, and complete the spacewalk successfully.
To date, Stephanie has flown three Space Shuttle missions, all on the Space Shuttle Discovery.
On one of her flights, she served with fellow astronaut Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger, a former high school teacher, Naoko Yamazaki, an engineer who was the second Japanese woman ever to reach space, and Tracy Caldwell Dyson, a chemist. In an interview with the Boston Globe, Stephanie seemed matter-of-fact about being in space with the largest group of women ever to be in space at one time:
“It was nice, and we all knew each other from mission training,’’ she says. “But much of our training and mission assignments have become gender-neutral, as it should be.’’ When it’s jokingly suggested that the four might have unfurled a “GIRLS RULE’’ banner on the space station, she laughs and shakes her head. “No, no,’’ says Wilson. “It speaks enough that we were all up there together.”
Today Stephanie is a member of the Astronaut Office and is a member of the Mission Support Crew for the International Space Station.
Like her fellow crewmates, she also gives talks about careers in space.
Here’s a TEDx talk about her training:
And here’s a TEDx talk by crewmate Naoko Yamazaki about the beauty of Earth from space and the importance of human cooperation:
Wait, more coolness! Here’s footage of Dorothy Metcalf-Lindenburger in space, in which she talks about training, living in zero gravity, and how she washes her hair:
Nasa.Gov – Preflight Interview: Stephanie D. Wilson, Mission Specialist
NBC News: Three Black Female Astronauts Share Their Small Steps, Giant Leaps, by Julie Walker. Note – this is a great interview with three African American women who are astronauts: Stephanie Wilson, Jeanette Epps, and Dr. Yvonne Cagle.
Space.com – New Space Record: 4 Women in Orbit at the Same Time
By Tariq Malik
And you can follow Stephanie Wilson on Twitter @astro_stephanie.