Awarded a $947 million contract, Aisha Bowe is now set to become the first Black woman aboard a commercial space flight

BY Preta Peace Namasaba April 17, 2024 1:00 PM EDT
Aisha Bowe. Photo credit: Aisha Bowe

If Aisha Bowe had taken her high school guidance counselor’s advice, she would have been a cosmetologist. It is not that the world cannot do with another cosmetologist but Bowe instead decided to follow her own path, becoming an aerospace engineer and serial entrepreneur along the way. And last year, her company secured a $947 million contract with the U.S. government. Bowe is now set to become the first Black woman to travel aboard a commercial space flight in 2024.

“I failed early and I failed often. This is one of the secrets of success. Failure is the best mentor because humans tend to move on if they do not fail, as if there is nothing more to explore. I had to create my own ideas, and those were created by success as well as misfires. I am not afraid of change, rather embrace it. Change means growth,” Bowe said about how she leveraged failure to build a successful career.

Bowe was uncertain about her future in high school. All she wanted was a job that could pay enough for her to be able to leave home and support herself. She graduated high school with a GPA of 2.3 and was unable to get into a top university. Her grades were poor when she took an Intro to Business class during the first semester at Community College. Upon persuasion by her father, Bowe took a pre-algebra class where she earned an A. She fell in love with mathematics and realised that success was possible.

She went on to graduate with a bachelor’s and later master’s in Aerospace Engineering from the University of Michigan. Bowe was inspired by her mentor and graduate professor to pursue a career at NASA. She joined NASA as an intern, rising to mission engineer and ultimately an Aerospace Engineer, AST Flight & Fluid Mechanics. She was a liaison to the Mathematics, Engineering, Science Achievement (MESA) Program where she mentored students, held interview workshops, and led NASA site tours. Bowe was honored with the National Society of Black Engineers award for Outstanding Technical Contribution in 2012.

In 2013, Bowe co-founded STEMBoard, a company that creates smart systems and solutions for large-scale U.S. federal and private sector clients. It is an SBA 8(a) Certified Economically Disadvantaged Women-Owned Small Business (EDWOSB) supported by the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce. The company was ranked among the fastest-growing private companies in 2020 and a recipient of the Nunn-Perry Award 2022 presented by the United States Department of Defense.

In 2023, STEMBoards in a joint venture with Exacta Solutions was awarded $947 million by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA). The grant was used to “provide support to NGA’s total lifecycle acquisition management, strategic financial management, and strategic business management activities.” The groundbreaking contract was a personal milestone for Bowe and a signifier of the immense potential within Black-owned businesses.

“I want to abandon the idea that engineers look a certain way and that people in certain fields look a certain way, broadly. To me, that’s the power of diversity and engineering and science and technology. You make the end product reflect the needs of the many as opposed to the few by having diverse perspectives in the engineering and design process,” Bowe said of the importance of diversity in technology.

She is also the founder and CEO of STEMLingo, a self-paced coding kit for learning technical concepts at home. Bowe has raised almost $2 million to create the application which is suitable for students in middle school to those in their sophomore year in college. STEMLingo is used in 10 countries. Its clients include Microsoft, nonprofits, HBCUs, and federal organizations.

Bowe is now inspiring the next generation of women in STEM. She is part of the U.S. Speaker Program at the Department of State which recruits American experts to engage international audiences. She travels across the world sharing her story of triumph to inspire girls from disadvantaged communities to pursue a career in STEM. Bowe has delivered lectures in South Africa, Israel, Kuwait, and Egypt where she provides valuable insights to girls and women looking to enter or advance in STEM.

To crown all her remarkable achievements, Bowe is set to become the first Black woman aboard a commercial space flight. She is scheduled to travel on a commercial vehicle to space in 2024 with Blue Origin, the private spaceflight company founded by Jeff Bezos. This excursion will make Bowe the sixth Black woman in history to travel into space. Her story is the subject of the documentary In Her Element.

“I’m going to space! As the first Black woman confirmed to fly with BLUE ORIGIN on #NewShepard, I am expected to be the sixth Black woman to cross the Kármán line – the internationally recognized boundary of space!” Bowe wrote on LinkedIn.