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Former NASA Astronaut Joan Higginbotham to Speak at the University of New Orleans Fall Commencement

Discovery crew member will also receive an honorary doctorate

NEW ORLEANS - Former NASA astronaut Joan E. Higginbotham will serve as the principal speaker at the University of New Orleans fall commencement ceremony on Dec. 12 at 3 p.m. in the UNO Lakefront Arena. She will also receive an honorary doctor of humane letters from the University.

Higginbotham, now an aerospace company executive, was a member of the Space Shuttle Discovery mission to the International Space Station in 2006. Her primary task was to operate the Space Station Remote Manipulator System. 

“It is an honor and a thrill to welcome Joan Higginbotham to the University of New Orleans for our fall commencement,” President John Nicklow said. “As a former astronaut, she will bring a perspective that few other human beings on the planet have gained. I am so excited for our graduates to learn from and be inspired by her.”

Higginbotham has received numerous awards and honors, including the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, Commendation of Merit for Service to the Department of Defense Missions, League of Black Women Black Rose Award and the Women of Color in Technology Career Achievement Award. She is one of only three African-American women to travel into space. 

Higginbotham began her career in 1987 at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. as a payload electrical engineer. She was promoted several times, eventually becoming lead orbiter project engineer for the Space Shuttle Columbia. She actively participated in 53 space shuttle launches during her 9-year tenure at the Kennedy Space Center.

Higginbotham was selected as an astronaut candidate by NASA in 1996. She worked in a variety of capacities at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. In December 2006, she and six fellow crew members continued construction on the International Space Station during a 12-day mission aboard the Space Shuttle Discovery. Discovery also delivered a new crew member and more than two tons of equipment and supplies to the station.

In 2007, Higginbotham retired from NASA to pursue a career in the private sector. She is currently the director of corporate social responsibility at UTC Aerospace Systems in Charlotte, NC. She previously held executive positions with Lowe’s and Marathon Oil.  

A Chicago native, Higginbotham has a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, a master’s degree in management and a master’s in space systems. 

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