Discovery crew 2006. On the left is Joan Higginbotham, the third African-American woman to go to space

The recent death of Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut, has brought to light her contributions to the space program and science. Dr Ride has influenced many females to get into the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).

Today, there is an increased push for the American education system to improve their STEM programs as well as to get students to show interest in the fields. It is important to bring attention to some of the African-American females that have, and are still, paving the road for future scientists,  astronauts or any STEM degree holders.

theGrio: Obama proposes $1 billion for science, math teachers

These women are just some of the many examples of African-American contributions to science.

Nichelle Nichols is not an astronaut, but her role in Star Trek as Lieutenant Uhura inspired many African-American women to become astronauts and astrophysicists including Mae Jemison. One of the first African-American female roles that was not a servant, Nichols used her position of popularity to work with NASA to recruit minorities and female personnel for the space agency. Those recruited include Dr. Sally Ride, the first female American Astronaut, Colonel Guion Bluford, the first African-American in space and many more. A genuine interest in space and the advancement of space Nichols flew aboard NASA’s C-141 Astronomy Observatory, which analyzed the atmospheres of Mars and Saturn on an eight-hour, high-altitude mission.

Jeanette J. Epps PH.D  from Syracuse NY  is a NASA astronaut. She received her PH.D in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Marylan in 2000. Dr. Epps was selected in 2009 to be one of the 14 members of the 20th NASA astronaut class. She recently graduated from Astronaut Candidate Training.

Joan Higginbotham received a Masters in Space Systems from Florida Institute of Technology and became the third African-American woman to go into space and has actively participated in 53 space launches. Originally from Chicago IL, Higginbotham originally thought that she would be become an electrical engineer and work for IBM. She started working at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and at the urging of one of her bosses applied to join the astronaut corps in 1994. She was not accepted. Higginbotham went on to continue her masters and applied a second time in 1996 “It was hard. I’d been back two years earlier. I’d gotten a master’s degree. I’d pretty much figured that I was done,” said Higginbotham. “I worked essentially night shift so that I could go to school during the day and get my second (master’s) degree. But obviously, it paid off.”

Beth Brown PH.D (1969-2008) was an Astrophysicist in the Sciences and Exploration Directorate at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. Born in Roanoke, VA, she grew up watching Star Trek and Star Wars and was fascinated with space. In  1998, Dr. Brown becoming the first African-American woman to earn a doctorate in Astronomy from the University of Michigan.

Mae Jemison PH.D was originally from Decateur AL. till her parents moved to Chicago IL. She became an astronaut in 1987 and was the first African-American woman to go to space in 1992. She retired from NASA in 1993 but at 55 received an award by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency of a $500,000 contract to study what is needed for long term projects such as interstellar space missions. Jemison says she was inspired by Martin Luther King Jr. but to her King’s dream wasn’t an elusive fantasy but a call to action. “Too often people paint him like Santa — smiley and inoffensive,” says Jemison. “But when I think of Martin Luther King, I think of attitude, audacity, and bravery.” Jemison thinks the civil rights movement was all about breaking down the barriers to human potential. “The best way to make dreams come true is to wake up,” says Jemison.