During Black History Month, Americans reflect on the triumphs and struggles of the African American community throughout history.
To date, NASA has enlisted 360 astronauts, yet only 18 of them have been Black. This is notable given that 47.9 million individuals self-identify as Black in the United States, making up 14.4% of the population, according to the Pew Research Center.
This is why NASA is honoring Black astronauts by highlighting their significant contributions to space exploration.
“In honor of Black History Month, we recognize the contributions of Black astronauts to our nation’s space programs,” NASA said. “Coming to NASA from a variety of backgrounds as military pilots, engineers, scientists, and physicians, these astronauts have made history-making contributions participating in space shuttle missions to perform critical tasks such as deploying and retrieving satellites, performing spacewalks, conducting science and technology research, and piloting and commanding space shuttle missions.”
Despite NASA's establishment in 1958, it wasn't until the 1980s that they welcomed their first Black astronaut, but since then, NASA says that Black astronauts have been pivotal in building the International Space Station, carrying out multiple spacewalks and robotic tasks, and contributing to research as part of expedition teams.
Later this month, NASA astronaut Jeanette J. Epps will make history when she heads to space for the first time with Crew 8 on a SpaceX Crew Dragon, launching in Feb. 22, 2024, as she'll become the first Black female astronaut to visit the International Space Station.
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