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Black History Month Trailblazers

They Paved the Way in Space



Throughout history, there have been those driven to make a difference in the world, and others who simply acted with courage and dignity at some point during their lives. In either case, the result was the same – they left a legacy – they paved the way for another to succeed because they did something first. For Black History Month, we are celebrating trailblazers, both past and present, who are paving the way.









Trailblazers: They Paved the Way in Space  



Katherine Johnson

Dr. Mae C. Jemison

Katherine Johnson was a physicist and mathematician who helped launch the first use of digital electronic computers at NASA. Her wisdom with numbers and accuracy was so highly regarded, that her sign-off was paramount for NASA to modernize itself with digital computers.

Many Black women were hired by NASA in the early 1950s to work in the Guidance and Navigation Department. Johnson came on board in 1953 — a year before the civil rights movement kicked into high gear — and she initially worked in a pool of Black women who all were performing math calculations. However, Johnson was picked to work with an all-male flight research team, and she helped calculate the orbit for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon. Johnson also co-authored 26 scientific papers, which NASA still links to via its archives.


Dr. Mae C. Jemison is an American astronaut, an engineer, and a physician who, on June 4, 1987, became the first African American woman to be admitted into NASA’s astronaut training program. After more than a year of training, she became the first African American woman astronaut, earning the title of science mission specialist — a job that would make her responsible for conducting crew-related scientific experiments on the space shuttle.

On September 12, 1992, Jemison finally flew into space with six other astronauts aboard the Endeavour on mission STS47, becoming the first African American woman in space. 



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