After the box-office success of the Fox 2000 feature film “Hidden Figures” (full disclosure – I worked as a writer on that project) in 2016, several African-American women who worked at NASA and contributed to the space race, such as the recently departed Katherine Johnson, finally became a celebrated part of the cultural zeitgeist.
It was at that time I realized I knew the names of some black astronauts (Mae Jemison, Charles Bolden) – but didn’t know who the first black astronauts were or how they contributed to the space program. So I did some research and was thrilled to learn about Guion “Guy” Bluford, Ron McNair and Frederick Gregory – the first three African-Americans in space (the first person of African descent was Cuban cosmonaut Arnaldo TamayoMéndez).
Recently, the Smithsonian Channel released the documentary (watch above) “Black in Space: Breaking The Color Barrier” which primarily chronicles the journeys of Buford, McNair and Gregory. To learn more about them, read below:
Buford, McNair and Gregory were all NASA classmates in the “Class of 1978,” when NASA re-invigorated the space program after not sending anyone into space since Apollo 17 took its last journey in 1972.
This was also the class that was the first to train women as astronauts (Sally Ride) as well as the first Asian-American man (Ellison Onizuka).
Recently, Good Black News was invited to cover the launch of “One Strange Rock,” a ten-part space/science series on the National Geographic Channel that premieres Monday, 3/26, and is hosted and narrated by Will Smith. It is director Darren Aronofsky‘s (“Black Swan,” “mother!,” “Requiem For a Dream”) first foray into television, and the series is produced by Jane Root through her production company Nutopia. It is a cinematic look at Earth from a variety of perspectives – from space, from the sea, from the desert – and across all continents.
From the episodes I’ve seen, “One Strange Rock” is a gorgeous, meditative, eye-opening look at our planet, and Smith is a welcome, friendly guide along the journey to get to know Earth and all its ecosystems in ways we haven’t seen or previously considered. But what honestly got me excited about “One Strange Rock” was the opportunity to sit down one-on-one with Dr. Mae Jemison, the first African-American female to travel into space (and one of my personal she-ros) to speak with her about her participation in “One Strange Rock,” as well as her other current projects (100 Year Starship and Look Up).
As I start to record the interview (this is moments after I fangirl and tell Dr. Jemison I dressed up as her one Halloween, entered a costume contest and won a 25-dollar gift card to Virgin Records), I state into my Voice Memo app the date, time, and that I’m about to interview Dr. Mae Jemison, she charmingly interrupts.
Mae Jemison: How about if we do it in Star Date Time? 2018.01.13, right?
Good Black News: Way better! That’s a Trekkie for you! I appreciate that, thank you, Dr. Jemison. Well, first I want to ask you about your involvement in “One Strange Rock.” Why, of all the different entities out there covering space, space travel, space exploration, did you want to lend your voice to this project?
MJ: So “One Strange Rock” is the story of the extraordinary journey of Earth. It’s about our home planet and how we went from this collection of rock and gases to something that supports life and an incredible diversity of life, and I wanted to be a part of that. When people think about space, so frequently they think about it just as the stars and the pictures and images and the rockets. But actually, space allows us to see our world that we live on. Space allows us to understand that when we look up at the stars, we’re actually made of the stuff of stars. Right? Inside of us is the heart of an old star. Doesn’t that make you feel like you belong to this universe and that you’re supposed to be here?
Absolutely. So is your hope with this particular project that more people will get that understanding that there isn’t a separation?
MJ: “One Strange Rock” does this incredible thing – it takes us from the smallest microbe, or to how oxygen is generated in small bubbles, all the way to the vistas of continents or being able to see our atmosphere, and connects it together. And so for me, one of the things we need to understand at some point in time – we’ve got to figure this out – is that we’re Earthlings and that we’re connected to this planet. So when I went into space, one of the things that happened to me is that I had an affirmation of something that I always believed. You know when people say, “Save the Earth”? They’re mistaken – the Earth will be here. The difference is, can we act in such a way that it continues to support our life form? You see, what “One Strange Rock” shows is how integrated life is on this planet and we as humans are part of that life. If we go to another world – just go to the space station – we have to carry some of the Earth with us. We have to carry that environment with us because this is where we evolved, this is where we developed. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t leave – obviously I want to leave -I want to go and explore other places. But it’s the recognition that there are a… unique series of coincidences, events and everything that led us to this day, to humans, to me sitting talking to you. And they started billions of years ago.
So with all of that, you talk in the first episode about the “Overview Effect” – about seeing the planet and essentially what you just communicated to me. How do you get people who don’t have the opportunity to go into space to understand that boundaries and countries and all of these things that we do as human beings to identify in all these different ways is a way of looking at Earth that isn’t going to help foster the survival of our species?
MJ: So I want to make one thing clear – I know a lot of astronauts talk about the “Overview Effect” – that everything belongs right here on this planet – for me when I went into space… I knew damn well that water crosses from one country to another, that our sky is over different countries and weather affects everyone. What “One Strange Rock” does is help people to understand and feel that. So I can maybe mumble words and give you statistics and stuff, but it’s not the same thing as having that emotional connection. What I’m so proud about with “One Strange Rock” is that it takes images from lots of different countries, from African countries, from South American countries – it goes down underneath the Earth and goes up to the top. And all those things help us to see this planet and the imagery from people, to animals, to… desolate locations. And so, it’s not so much again about mumbling the words, or even saying the words very clearly, it’s about allowing people to see and be there with you. And not just from space, because we get down to the detail. We see kids playing, we see folks who’ve been collecting salt for generations from one location. All of those things are important for us to understand our connectedness to this world. And it’s not about preaching and it’s not about how fast the Space Station is orbiting the Earth or any of that kind of stuff – it’s that vantage point.Continue reading “Pioneering Astronaut Mae Jemison Offers Insight and Forward Thinking to New National Geographic Channel Series “One Strange Rock””→
Retired U.S. Marine Corps Major General and former NASA Administrator Charles Frank Bolden Jr. has been selected as recipient of the 2017 Nierenberg Prize.
While many young people dream of becoming a NASA astronaut and exploring space, only a select few actually make this dream a reality. Some seemingly “fall into” this remarkable career path. One of those people is retired U.S. Marine Corps Major General and former NASA Administrator Charles Frank Bolden Jr., who spent 34 years serving in the Marine Corps and 14 years as a NASA astronaut (1980-1994), logging more than 680 hours in space during four space shuttle missions, twice as commander and twice as pilot.
In honor of his remarkable career and lifetime of service to science, his country, and the public, Bolden has been selected as recipient of the 2017 Nierenberg Prize by Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego. All are invited to attend the award ceremony and a presentation from Bolden in a free event on Oct. 17 at 6 p.m. at the Robert Paine Scripps Forum for Science, Society and the Environment.
Bolden grew up in the segregated South and overcame great obstacles to become a transformative leader. He is the first African American to serve as NASA Administrator, a position he held from July 2009 to January 2017 which was appointed by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate. During his time at the helm, Bolden oversaw a new era of exploration with science activities including an unprecedented landing on Mars by the Curiosity rover, launch of a spacecraft to Jupiter, and continued progress toward the 2018 launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, the successor to the Hubble Space Telescope.
UC San Diego News sat down to chat with Bolden about his incredible journey, from his early days in science to space and beyond.
Q: What inspired you to get involved in science?
Charles Bolden: I always liked taking stuff apart and putting it back together, but I think I became seriously involved in seventh grade, in middle school when my seventh-grade science teacher Mr. J.P. Neal not only encouraged but almost mandated us to participate in science fairs in school. I fell in love with it and I never missed a science fair after that.
Q: Have you ever followed up with that teacher to let him know the impact he had on your life?
NASA astronaut Jeanette Epps is set to become the first African-American crewmember on the International Space Station when she flies to space next year, the space agency announced Wednesday.
Epps’ months-long trip should begin in 2018, and it will mark the first time she has traveled to orbit, following in the footsteps of the women who inspired her to become an astronaut. “It was about 1980, I was nine years old. My brother came home and he looked at my grades and my twin sisters’ grades and he said, ‘You know, you guys can probably become aerospace engineers or even astronauts,'” Epps said in a NASA video interview.
“And this was at the time that Sally Ride [the first American woman to fly in space] and a group of women were selected to become astronauts — the first time in history. So, he made that comment and I said, ‘Wow, that would be so cool.'” While other African-American astronauts have flown to the Space Station for brief stays during the outpost’s construction, Epps will be the first African-American crewmember to live and work on the station for an extended period of time.
“Robert Curbeam, Stephanie Wilson, Joan Higginbotham, Al Drew, Leland Melvin and Robert Satcher, along with their space shuttle crewmates, helped to complete the space station during its first 11 years,” space historian Robert Pearlman, who runs the website collectSPACE.com, told Mashable.
Melvin actually encouraged Epps to apply to become an astronaut when the space agency put out a call for their 2009 class, Epps said. And that encouragement paid off. Epps was selected as one of 14 astronaut candidates in NASA’s 2009 class. NASA received 3,500 astronaut applications that year. Her astronaut selection wasn’t the first time she worked with the space agency, however. Epps was a NASA fellow while at the University of Maryland for graduate school in aerospace engineering and then worked in a lab at Ford Motor Company for more than two years, according to the space agency.
From there, Epps’ path to becoming an astronaut takes a decidedly atypical turn. Most astronauts come to the Astronaut Corps either through training in science or as a military officer, but after Ford, Epps spent more than seven years at the Central Intelligence Agency as a technical intelligence officer.”I did a lot of scientific stuff, but I also did a lot of operational stuff,” Epps said. “We worked in non-proliferation issues, which was great. It’s reverse engineering at its best.” Epps also volunteered to go to Iraq with the CIA for four months to help search for weapons of mass destruction.
On this day in 1995, Bernard Harris Jr. became the first African American to walk in space. After logging 198 hours and 29 minutes in space and completing 129 orbits, he traveled more than 4 million miles total throughout his career as an astronaut.
Harris was born in Temple, Texas, on June 26, 1956. He graduated from high school in San Antonio, and later went on to receive a Bachelor of Science from the University of Houston. He earned a doctorate in medicine at Texas Tech University in 1982. He also earned a master’s in biomedical science from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston in 1996. Harris has won numerous awards and honors including the 1996 Honorary Doctorate of Science, Outstanding Young Men of America in 1984, the University of Houston Achievement Award in 1978, the National Research Council Fellowship in 1986 and 1987, and many, many more.
Harris joined the NASA Johnson Space Center as a scientist and flight surgeon after completing his fellowship in 1987; he held the title of project manager. He was selected by NASA in January 1990 to become an astronaut, and he qualified for a space mission. During his time on flight STS-63 that departed Feb. 2, 1995, and returned Feb. 11, he made by becoming the first African American to touch down and walk in space. He left NASA the following April; he is currently chief scientist and vice president of Science and Health Services.