It’s interesting that so many people involved in space and astronomy can point to a particular moment when they became interested in the field as a career. For astronaut Stephanie Wilson it happened when she was about 13 years old.
“I was given a school assignment to interview somebody who worked in an interesting career field,” Wilson recalled. “I was interested in astronomy at the time, so I interviewed an astronomy professor at Williams College.”
Wilson said she was fascinated by the opportunities to travel, do research, and teach to which a career in astronomy might lead.
“That was my first interest in space and my introduction to science,” Wilson said.
Wilson spoke Saturday at the Museum of Flight in a presentation to the Michael P. Anderson Memorial Aerospace Program. The program, named after the Washington-native astronaut who died in the space shuttle Columbia tragedy in 2003, aims to provide inspiration and role models for students who are underrepresented in aerospace.
“It really started a thought process about what other opportunities were available and what were some other ways that I could function in aerospace,” Wilson said of her talk with the astronomy professor. “I also had an inerest in working with my hands and understanding how devices are put together, so I did decide to study engineering in college.”
She earned degrees in engineering science at Harvard and in aerospace engineering at the University of Texas. Wilson held jobs in structural dynamics, robotics, and spacecraft attitude control before becoming part of the astronaut class of 1996. She was the second African-American woman to fly in space, going on three shuttle missions to the International Space Station. During her presentation Wilson showed video of highlights of her STS-131 mission in 2010. She has logged 42 days in space, and hopes to go again. She said she’d especially enjoy a longer mission during which she could spend six months on the ISS.
Michael Anderson was part of the 1995 astronaut class, and Wilson met and flew with him during her early days with NASA. She said that gives her some extra affinity for his namesake aerospace program’s goals.
“I really hope that people see that, as a woman and as an engineer, I tried to worked hard in that field, I did the best that I could to advance those fields,” Wilson said. “I also hope that people see that I tried to make a path so that people could follow in those footsteps and continue on their work. I hope that young people will see that anything is possible.”