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spaceSpace and Physics

African American NASA Employees Honored In Black History Month Tribute

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Dr. Alfredo Carpineti

Senior Staff Writer & Space Correspondent

clockFeb 23 2022, 16:29 UTC
Guion Bluford aboard Challenger's STS-8 mission on August 30, 1983, when he became the first African-American to fly in space.

Guion Bluford aboard Challenger's STS-8 mission on August 30, 1983, when he became the first African-American to fly to space. Image Credit: NASA

NASA has paid tribute to some of the most prominent African American people who have worked for the agency over the decades, from astronauts to engineers to mathematicians. They have released a video featuring these people as well as a photo album of pictures from its early years to today.

Among the people featured in the video, is Guion “Guy” Bluford, the first African American to fly to space on Space Shuttle Challenger in 1983. He went on to fly three more times on Space Shuttle flights.

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Then there is Dr. Mae Jemison, the first Black woman to travel into space on Space Shuttle Endeavour. She has degrees in chemical engineering and African and African-American studies, as well as a medical degree and several honorary doctorates. Hers is the quote "Never be limited by other people's limited imaginations."

On September 12 1992, Dr Mae Jemison became the first Black woman in space. The picture from earlier that day shows her suit technician, Sharon McDougle, performing an unpressurized and pressurized leak check on Dr Jemison's spacesuit. Image Credit: NASA

Inventor, physicist, engineer, and space scientist George Robert Carruthers is also featured. He is likely a less well-known figure than the public-facing astronauts Bluford and Jemison. Carruthers's greatest inventions were related to ultraviolet cameras and detectors, from a compact version used by the Apollo 16 astronauts to more sophisticated ones used in telescopes, demonstrating the existence of hydrogen in the interstellar medium as well as observing Halley’s comet in UV.

Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson, and Mary W. Jackson were also honored in the tribute. Their work was crucial during NASA’s early years and their lives have been immortalized in the book (and subsequently film) Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, which focuses on them and other Black women working for the agency.

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The contributions of African Americans to the work of NASA continue to be crucial today, from being part of the Artemis program that will land the first woman and the first person of color on lunar soil, to designing new missions, including Ingenuity – the first helicopter to fly on another world.

 


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