America, the land of equality and opportunity for all. Equality for everyone hasn’t existed for long and is still being fought for to this day. Voting and citizenship rights for women and racial minorities were not granted at the founding of this country, but had to be amended to the Constitution much later. Even after minorities had the right to vote guaranteed by the Constitution, they were still treated as second class citizens for multiple decades, and still not treated as they should be. Minorities are still being underestimated and discriminated against, but with hard work and dedication, we have been making progress to change this.
The story of Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly tells the story of three extremely bright young African American women who work for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which later became the National Aeronautics and Space Association (NASA) post World War II. These three women started off as human computers, people who ran the numbers for engineers, and advanced to become engineers, supervisors and programmers. Their story shows the hardship of a nation segregated by race, both by culture and law. They, along with their other female African American coworkers, fought against the racial injustices they faced relentlessly at the lab. By taking small steps every day, the separation between whites and Blacks at the Langley lab started to slowly fade. Eventually, Katherine Johnson, an African American computer, became an engineer in the Space Task Force, one of the most important and prestigious groups during the time. With the Jim Crow Laws in place in Virginia at the time, this was a major advancement for African Americans everywhere, showing the country and the world that Blacks were as smart as whites and just as qualified to work at NASA. They proved it by putting a man on the moon. Astronaut John Glenn asked specifically for Katherine Johnson to run his re entry point numbers.
NASA has had many women pioneers in the aeronautics and space world. According to Atkinson, these three women were hardly the first to break the gender barrier. Pearl Young was the first women to work at Langley. She started working at the NACA as an engineer in 1922 and eventually made her way all the way up to Chief Technical Editor at the NACA. By women fighting for equality from the 30s to the 60s, many women now serve at NASA in all departments and in all aspects. There are many women currently serving in executive positions at NASA including, “Lesa Roe, who has served as NASA Langley’s center director and is currently detailed as a deputy associate administrator for the agency; Ellen Stofan, who serves as chief scientist; and Elizabeth Robinson, who serves as chief financial officer” (Atkinson). At NASA and in many other technical institutions, throughout the 20th century women advanced from being computers, to programmers and engineers. Now, women are starting to become more involved in the STEM fields because of the groundwork laid in the past. This shows that with many years of persistence and hard work, anything is possible.
Since America started sending people into space in 1961, there have been 14 African American astronauts who have made it into space, two of which have been women (List of African-American). The International Space Station (ISS) had its first manned crew in the year 2000, with one American astronaut and two Russian cosmonauts. Since then, many African Americans have been sent into space, but none have ever been stationed on the ISS as a crew member for a mission. In May of 2018, for the first time in ISS history there will be an African American crewmate, astronaut Jeanette Epps. According to Workneh, Epps will be joining astronaut Andrew Feustel for Expeditions 56 and 57. This is a significant milestone, the first Black astronaut representing America on the ISS for all the world to see. Since 2000, America has been sending astronauts to the ISS, all but a few members have been white.
Over the years, America has become more accepting to diversity and equality. As a nation, we are nowhere near perfect when it comes to minority equality, but we have made significant improvement each decade.
Atkinson, Joe. “From Computers to Leaders: Women at NASA Langley.” NASA, NASA, 24 Aug. 2015, www.nasa.gov/larc/from-computers-to-leaders-women-at-nasa-langley.
“List of African-American Astronauts.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 29 Aug. 2017, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_African-American_astronauts.
Shetterly, Margot Lee. Hidden Figures: the Untold Story of the African American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race. William Morrow, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2017.
Workneh, Lilly. “First African-American Crewmember To Join The International Space Station.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 9 Jan. 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/first-african-american-astronaut-to-board-international-space-station_us_586fd5b1e4b02b5f85889969.Tags: American CreedGender equalityminority equalitynasaOkemos High SchoolRacial equalityspace