America’s First Black Astronauts: 15 People Who Paved the Way

ronaldmcnairRonald E. McNair, Ph.D. (Deceased)

McNair was the first African-American astronaut to die aboard a shuttle — in the Challenger disaster that killed the crew of seven on Jan. 28, 1986. Born Oct. 21, 1950, in Lake City, South Carolina, McNair was a Renaissance man who picked cotton as a youth but later obtained a degree in physics from North Carolina A&T and a doctorate from MIT. His first flight was on STS 41-B, and prior to his death on the Challenger, he logged 191 hours in space. He had carried a saxophone on Challenger to perform a solo for a record album.



 Lt. Col. Michael Phillip Anderson (U.S. Air Force, Deceased)

Anderson was the second African-American astronaut to die in space when Columbia disintegrated upon re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere just 16 minutes before landing on Feb. 1, 2006. Anderson was born Dec. 25, 1959, in Plattsburg, New York, and grew up in Spokane, Washington. He held a degree in physics and astronomy from the University of Washington and a master’s in physics from Creighton University.



Stephanie D. Wilson

Wilson is one of two African-American women who followed in the footsteps of Mae Jemison. A Bostonian, Wilson holds a degree in engineering science from Harvard and a master’s in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas. She is a veteran of three shuttle missions.

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