Black Women Astronauts

Marianne Dyson March 2017

March is Women’s History Month, and Wednesday, March 8, is International Women’s Day, a celebration of women’s achievements and a call to action for gender parity.

As we celebrate the trailblazing achievements of pioneering women like those in the movie Hidden Figures, it seems appropriate to ponder why, some 50 years later, there is only one female black astronaut, Jeanette Epps.

When Epps makes her first flight in May 2018, she will be the fourth black woman to fly in space. The others were Mae Jemison (in 1992), Stephanie Wilson (in 2006, 2007, 2010), and Joan Higginbotham (in 2006). Yvonne Cagle, class of 1996, never flew and is no longer eligible.

Jeanette Epps is currently the only black female astronaut eligible to fly. (NASA photo)

Why so few black female astronauts?

I suspect the short answer is that not many apply for the position. As dramatized in Hidden Figures, lack of access to educational resources (the latest technical books at the library and advanced courses in engineering) can be a huge barrier to qualifying for high-tech jobs. Besides supporting our local libraries and colleges, what can we do to help girls (and boys) prepare for a bright future in space?

Studies (see Books in the Home Are Strongly Linked to Academic Achievement) have shown that a home library increases a child’s success in school, especially kids in families with little education or low-status occupations.

Don’t have a clue what books to give to your aspiring astronaut or their school? Check out the new STEM book list for K-12 developed by the National Science Teachers Association, in cooperation with the Children’s Book Council.

About a third of the list of 31 books feature female scientists, including three about Ada Lovelace who created the first computer program, one about biplane pilot Ruth Law, one about 33 trailblazing women in science, one about female architects, and another about women computers from WW II. One book is about a young black scientist, Benjamin Banneker. Happily, the list also includes Welcome to Mars, the book I coauthored with Buzz Aldrin.

As the website Fatherly points out, the answers to the question of what kids want to be when they grow up reveals a lot about the cultural influences on today’s kids. Fatherly speculates that boys aspire to be pro athletes because that’s what they see hyped in the media. Girls, who naturally tend toward careers that help others, chose doctor and teacher.

I hope that as more black girls and boys are exposed to movies like Hidden Figures, books about female and black scientists, and hear more about black astronauts in the news, they will be inspired to pursue STEM careers and apply to be astronauts.

NASA had 18,300 applicants for the astronaut class of 2017. Selections will be announced in June. Here’s hoping that the choices move us a little bit closer to gender and racial parity in space.

As cheap as it gets! My memoir, A Passion for Space, was selected by Amazon as a Kindle Daily Deal in celebration of International Women’s Day. Order the eBook from Amazon for only $3.99!

Writing about Space

Welcome to Mars was chosen as a Best STEM Book by the NSTA.

My novelette, “Europa’s Survivors,” with a strong female lead character, is in the March/April issue of Analog Science Fiction magazine.

My article “Terraforming Mars: Could We? Should We?” is in the spring issue of Ad Astra magazine published by the National Space Society.

Speaking about Space

I’d love to share space with you! Invite me to speak to your school, conference, or library. I offer short programs and STEM workshops for adults, kids, and mixed audiences. Dyson Author Visits.

March 19-23. I’m attending the Lunar & Planetary Science Conference to gather data for articles for Ad Astra magazine and settings for new science fiction stories. Contact me to schedule an interview or meet-up.

Thursday, April 27, 7PM Deer Park Public Library. I’m presenting “Mission Control: Solving Problems in Realtime.” Free, open to the public.

Saturday, May 6, 10 AM to 4 PM, Southwestern Presbyterian Church in Bellaire. Morning session: Write a Short Story in a Day. Afternoon session: How to Publish a Book. Cost is $30/$35 for either session or $50/$60 for both for members/nonmembers of Houston Writers House.