The universe and its countless stars have dazzled man for thousands of years. Few people have seen the breath-taking view from space. Stephanie Wilson is one of them. The NASA astronaut made history by becoming the second African-American woman to travel in space since Dr. Mae Jemison went into orbit in 1992. I spent time with Stephanie at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas, where we talked about her passion for space flight, her life on earth, and how she feels about being a history-maker.
Stephanie Wilson: When I joined NASA in 1996, I joined two other African-American women in that class. I think of the three of us as the second wave of African-American women that have traveled into space. Unfortunately, though the numbers are small, I hope that I can help inspire some young African-American women to become astronauts.
Evans [reporting]: Stephanie first launched into space aboard the space shuttle Discovery in April 2006 and then again in October 2007.
Evans: You’ve traveled in space twice now. When’s your next mission?
Wilson: March 18, 2010. We’ll have a 12-day mission to the international space station. We’ll carry a logistics module, which will have supplies and experiments for the space station crew, and we will also have three space walks.
Evans [reporting]: When she’s not training for her next mission aboard the shuttle Atlantis…
Wilson: I enjoy downhill snow skiing and stamp collecting. I also enjoy community service, either volunteer work or participating in church work.
Evans [reporting]: Her faith has been a guiding force in her life since she was a teenager in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, a small town outside Boston.
Wilson: I was very fortunate to have a good friend who witnessed to me. I accepted Christ through her witness, and I’ve been striving to have a closer walk with the Lord ever since. My faith has played an essential role in my career as well as other areas of my life. I hope that my faith governs the decisions that I make in all areas.
Evans: Each time you travel in space, I’m sure you have to pack light, but you never forget your Bible.
Wilson: I have been able to bring some family photos and also a small Bible on both of my space flights.
Evans [reporting]: Stephanie’s fascination with the universe began at the age of 13.
Wilson: Looking at the stars definitely made me feel that there was more than Earth. There is more than our solar system, and there is much more to learn about the universe.
Evans [reporting]: The Harvard graduate earned a Master degree in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Texas before joining NASA’s Astronaut Corps.
Evans: You train extensively for your missions, but sometimes things go wrong. Was there a particular moment where you really had to trust God?
Wilson: On my second flight, we had a problem with the solar array. We had to send a spacewalker out to the end of the robotic arm at the end of the space station to do this repair. It was definitely a moment when I was trusting in God. His life was in my hands and in the hands of another robotic arm operator.
Evans [reporting]: The risky operation was a success, but the dangers of space flight are real. The Columbia tragedy in 2003 sent shockwaves through NASA and the nation. The entire crew died when the shuttle disintegrated upon re-entry.
Wilson: I was close to all of them. I was the lead capsule communicator for that mission, so I was the voice of the mission control team talking to the crew. It was definitely a sad day for NASA and a sad day for the world. As a result of accidents, though, we learn a great deal. We’re able to make safety improvements. Personally I handled the Columbia tragedy by making sure that their memories are kept alive. I did what I could to help the families through their losses, and I tried to remember that God is in control. I might not understand His plan, but He does have one.
Evans [reporting]: Despite the risk involved, Stephanie remains committed to space exploration.
Wilson: I do believe I have found my purpose in life. I believe that this is what I was destined to do. The Space Program is important. There are many things that transfer in technology such as computers and medical equipment that are results of the space station that apply to our everyday lives and make our lives better. I do put my trust in God for protection. That helps me to have confidence in all the things that I do.
Evans [reporting]: With so much left to explore, there’s no telling how far Stephanie’s career will take her. One thing’s for sure, the breadth and beauty of the universe remind her of what matters most.
Wilson: It makes me feel that God’s love is very vast, and it’s never ending. It’s unconditional. I’m very appreciative that He can love me for who I am.