The International Space Station (ISS) may be an impressive technological marvel, but it’s also tangible proof of what humans can accomplish when we set aside political, religious, gender, or racial differences and focus on science. Built by Russia and funded by the United States, the $100 billion space station is the result of more than a dozen countries working together.
A remarkable amount of effort went into the successful creation of the ISS, which has now been in operation for more than 16 years. It currently orbits Earth at an altitude of 354 kilometers (220 miles), traveling at 28,163 kilometers per hour (17,500 miles per hour). The space station orbits our planet every 90 minutes, and an acre of solar panels keep the outpost running.
Right now, the ISS is home to several crew members from various nations, all of whom are focused on learning about how humans can live and work in space. It is arguably the most visible example of international cooperation and everything that can be achieved when nations collaborate.
Soon, a new addition to an ISS expedition crew will make history aboard the space station. When Jeanette Epps joins Expedition 56 in March 2018 as a flight engineer, she will become the first African-American to join the ISS as a crew member.
Epps holds a doctorate in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland and served as a fellow in NASA’s Graduate Student Researchers Project, an initiative that hopes to increase engagement amongst students who want to pursue advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields.
In a recent interview with New York Magazine, Epps shared her thoughts on joining the ISS:
There have been three African-Americans who have visited ISS, but they haven’t done the long-duration mission that I am undertaking. I’ll be the one spending the longest time on the ISS. As a steward, I want to do well with this honor. I want to make sure that young people know that this didn’t happen overnight. There was a lot of work involved, and a lot of commitment and consistency. It is a daunting task to take on.
While Epps will be the first African-American to board the ISS for a long-term expedition, numerous African-American women have lent their expertise to the success of NASA. As far back as the 1950s, African-American women were contributing to humanity’s mission to explore the unknown, and soon, Epps will be able to add her name to the list of people breaking new ground in space exploration.