Joan Higginbotham

Joan Higginbotham
Retired NASA Astronaut, Electrical Engineer
Third African American Woman in Space

A former NASA astronaut, Joan Higginbotham is a trailblazing electrical engineer who, in December 2006, flew aboard Space Shuttle Discovery mission STS-116 to become the third African American woman to travel into space. Over the nearly 13-day mission, she joined the seven-member crew to continue construction of the International Space Station (ISS), embarking on four space walks and operating the station’s robotic arm.

Joan inspires audiences with her personal journey of breaking barriers into space and beyond. Taking groups aboard the International Space Station and sharing her lessons learned along the way, she highlights the keys to succeeding in her missions—including seizing opportunities, being prepared, perseverance, and never giving up—and how these tactics can be applied to any endeavor. Sharing captivating insights from her 20-year distinguished career with NASA, she offers groups a fresh, unique perspective on stress management, teamwork, driving diversity, and social impact, and provides actionable strategies to work through and thrive in demanding, high-stakes environments.

A real-life rocket scientist, Joan began her career at NASA in 1987 as an aerospace technologist at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC), Florida, where she worked her way through numerous promotions and actively participated in 53 space shuttle launches during her nine-year tenure. Selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in 1996, she reported to the Johnson Space Center, with various technical duties including testing modules of the ISS for operability, compatibility, and functionality prior to launch. Joan has logged more than 308 hours in space and retired in 2007 after 20 years with NASA, joining Marathon Oil to manage their corporate social responsibility office.

Currently, she manages relationships with governmental agencies and companies involved in human space exploration at Collins Aerospace. Previously, Joan served as director of corporate social responsibility (CSR) for UTC Aerospace Systems, focused on creating a stronger CSR identity that delivered social impact in key markets around the world. Prior to UTC Aerospace Systems, she held multiple director positions at Lowe’s Companies, Inc., leading their community relations, supplier diversity, and global sourcing efforts.

Widely recognized for her accomplishments, Joan has been honored by President George W. Bush at the 81st White House Black History Month Celebration, featured in Alicia Keys’ Superwoman video, is the recipient of the National Space Medal, the Adler Planetarium Women in Space Award, and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, and was named one of Savoy Magazine’s Top Influential Women in Corporate America and one of Essence Magazine’s 
Top 50 Women, among other accolades.

Born in Chicago, IL, Joan received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Electrical Engineering from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale (SIU-C), a Master of Science Degree in Management from the Florida Institute of Technology (FIT), a Master of Science Degree in Space Systems from FIT, an Honorary Doctorate in Aerospace Science from SIU-C, and an Honorary Doctorate in Humanities from the University of New Orleans.