On Friday October 18, 2019, NASA astronaut Stephanie Wilson was the female voice heard across the galaxy in Mission Control during the historic all-woman spacewalk with astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch.
This was the 221st spacewalk performed in support of space station assembly, but the first to be conducted entirely by women, NASA astronauts
Wilson, 52, who is the second African American woman to go into space after Mae Jemison, was the acting CapCom or Capsule Communication at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The CapCom is the astronaut on Earth who communicates with crew members on the spacecraft. They are usually the leader of a three- (wo)man team and they are responsible for site mission readiness, real-time mission support, and status reporting to the control flight director. During piloted missions, they provide communication with the astronauts in the spacecraft.
Due to high-risk time-critical decisions, the astronaut corps believed that only astronauts should talk to the astronaut in the capsule. This made it easier for the astronaut cap com to recognize any changes of a fellow members tone of voice/speech patterns. Since astronauts train so closely together, it was felt that a non-astronaut might miss those subtle nuances.
During the six-hour walk, Wilson helped coordinated the mission, issued instructions and stayed in touch with both Meir and Koch, while they installed a power controller.
As part of the Houston MCC team, it is a pleasure to work with @Astro_Christina,@AstroDrewMorgan, @astro_luca and @Astro_Jessica for this series of spacewalks to upgrade @Space_Station batteries! https://t.co/oo1JoL5fFN
— Stephanie Wilson (@Astro_Stephanie) October 7, 2019
NASA tweeted about Wilson’s historic role, “Who’s talking to the astronauts from Mission Control during today’s #AllWomanSpacewalk? That’s astronaut Stephanie Wilson, who has spent 42 days in space over 3 spaceflights! https://go.nasa.gov/33Ky20i”
Wilson received her bachelor’s degree in engineering science from Harvard University in 1988, master of science in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas in 1992 and in April 1996 she was selected as an Astronaut. In 2010, she flew three shuttle missions: STS-121 in 2006, STS‑120 in 2007 and STS-131 in 2010 for a total of 42 days, where she assisted with assembling the space space and delivering crews.
Wilson has served as the Space Station Integration branch chief from 2010 to 2012, and she has also served as a member of the 2009, 2013 and 2017 astronaut selection boards.
During a TEDxDunedIn talk in 2012, she recollected interviewing an astronomer in school and said “I grew up looking at the night sky and wondering what was out in the heavens,”
In May of this year, Wilson was a keynote commencement speaker at Salem College, where she was also presented with The Salem Trailblazer Award, which recognizes women who have made contributions to benefit the world and charted a path for all women. She told the group of 221 graduates,
“Your generation will be equipped with more tools for problem solving than any other generation. As you ponder your options, look for opportunities that are career broadening.”
Wilson also shared some of her lessons learned when she took advantage of opportunities to broaden her experience in aerospace engineering and how she was first rejected when she first applied to become a NASA astronaut.
She was eventually among 120 qualified candidates who were interviewed with NASA at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, and she landed the job.
“The message there is that it may be difficult to achieve your goal, but please don’t give up at the first obstacle,” Wilson said.