Heritage of Valor: Black Women in Space
As we revealed in our previous “Heritage of Valor” lesson, our Cornerstone students share an important heritage with one of their own from Detroit, Major Pat Walker Locke. They share a heritage with a person that not only looks like them, but whose parents looked like their parents, and whose grandparents looked like their grandparents. As we stated, you do not have to be a blood relative in order to share a common heritage. And this heritage is a “Heritage of Valor.” Let’s continue our study.
Today, for our “Heritage of Valor” lesson, we will take a very special journey. This is a journey taken by some incredible Black Women. A journey from “orbital rocket trajectory computations” to “space flight” to “directing NASA’s Space Center” to “can you guess what comes next?”
Let us start with an amazingly smart woman. Did you see the Hollywood movie “Hidden Figures?” Several famous actors starred in the movie including Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Glen Powell, Mahershala Ali, Karan Kendrick, and Aldis Hodge.
Ms. Henson played Katherine Johnson. Ms. Johnson had a highly successful 35-year career at NASA. Katherine Johnson was one of the first African American women to work at NASA as a scientist. She earned a reputation for mastering complex manual calculations (orbital mechanics). It was her calculations that later helped pioneer the use of IBM mainframe computers to perform the mathematical computations for orbital mechanics. In other words, Katherine Johnson was instrumental in America going to the moon. Very few people had ever heard of her until the movie “Hidden Figures.” Ms. Johnson recently passed away on February 24, 2020 at the age of 101 years old. God’s speed Ms. Johnson.
But the journey was just beginning. Black women would soon become astronauts. In 1992, astronaut Mae Jemison became the first black woman in space. Ms. Jemison is an American engineer, physician, and joined NASA’s astronaut corps in 1987. She became the first black woman to travel into space as a mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. Ms. Jemison orbited the Earth for nearly eight days on September 12–20, 1992. By the way, let me remind you that six African American astronauts have visited the space station during shuttle flights. And, as you are aware, Ronald McNair, a black astronaut and physicist was killed when Challenger disintegrated nine miles above the Atlantic Ocean 73 seconds after liftoff on January 28, 1986. He died with six other brave astronauts, one being Sharon Christa McAuliffe, a payload specialist and a school teacher.
Our journey continues with Vanessa E. Wyche. Ms. Wyche is currently NASA’s Deputy Director of the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. Not only is she the Deputy Director, but she is second in Command of the Houston Space Facility. Ms. Wyche is responsible for over 10,000 people. Yes, our black women have come a long way from computational mechanics.
Where are black women going from here? Do you want to guess? My bet is with Jeanette Epps. Ms. Epps will soon become the first black woman to live and work long-term aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Her flight is scheduled for this year, 2021. She will be flying in the new Boeing CST-100 Starliner spacecraft. They are still working out the “bugs” in this brand-new spacecraft. Jeanette Epps will be assigned to the first operational crew to fly in this new Starliner spacecraft. Our prayers will be with her as she “links” in orbit with the International Space Station. On the ISS she will join astronauts Sunita Williams and Josh Cassada for a six-month stay. Yes, six-months is a long time to be in space.
As promised, the Cornerstone “Heritage of Valor” initiative will talk about people you may have never heard of before. We will talk about people you may know, but find out something about them you never knew. Either way, you will learn something you did not know before.
The magnificent black women we discussed today, not only share your common heritage, but also are examples of courageous leaders of high moral character. They made a habit of “doing the harder right, instead of the easier wrong.” From Cornerstone Schools to you black women in America, thank you for taking us on this journey. And it is not finished yet.