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Joan E. Higginbotham      

Electrical Engineer & Former NASA Astronaut; Third African-American Woman To Go Into Space

Joan Higginbotham is an electrical engineer and retired NASA astronaut. She is one of only three African American women to go into space.

Born in Chicago, Illinois, Higginbotham loves cycling, music, and motivational speaking. After graduating from Whitney Young Magnet High School in Chicago in 1982, she attended Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIU-C) and received a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering in 1986. She continued her education at the Florida Institute of Technology, receiving a Master of Management in 1992 and a Master in Space Systems in 1996.

Higginbotham started her career in 1987 as a Payload Electrical Engineer in the Electrical and Telecommunications Systems Division at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. She occupied this position for six months until she became the lead for the Orbiter Experiments on OV-102, the Space Shuttle Columbia. She was tapped to serve as the Executive Staff Assistant to the director of Shuttle Operations and Management. Higginbotham then served as backup orbiter project engineer for OV-104, Space Shuttle Atlantis, where she participated in the integration of the orbiter docking station into the space shuttle used during Shuttle/Mir docking missions. Higginbotham occupied this position for two more years before she was promoted to lead orbiter project engineer for OV-102, Space Shuttle Columbia. Here she was the technical lead government engineer in the firing room where she supported and managed the integration of vehicle testing and troubleshooting. She participated in 53 space shuttle launches during her first nine years at Kennedy Space Center.

In April of 1996, Higginbotham was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA. The following August she reported to the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, to begin training. During her time at the Johnson Space Center, Higginbotham was assigned technical duties in the Payloads & Habitability Branch, the Shuttle Avionics & Integration Laboratory, and the Operations Support Branch where she tested modules of the International Space Station for operability, compatibility, and functionality prior to launch.

In December 2006, Higginbotham logged over 308 hours in space during her mission with the crew of STS-116, during which her primary task was to operate the Space Station Remote Manipulator System (SSRMS) during the installation of the P5 space station truss segment.

Higginbotham was assigned to the crew of STS-126, slated to launch in September 2008, but on November 21, 2007, she resigned from a successful 20-year distinguished career with NASA to pursue a career in the private sector. Higginbotham has received numerous accolades such as the Adler Planetarium Woman in Space Award, the Black Rose Award by the League of Black Woman, Savoy Magazine’s 2012 Top Influential Women in Corporate America, an Honorary Doctor of Aerospace from SIU-C and an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in 2017 from the University of New Orleans, Louisiana.


Astronaut Joan Higginbotham
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NASA Astronaut Joan Higginbotham
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