Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dramatic Impact on the Sciences and Space Travel

By Michael L. Sampson

Reflecting on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday Celebration, Black History Month, and beyond, we are invited to view Dr. King through a new lens, that of a man ahead of his time, as well as the incomparable freedom fighter we’ve come to know. He was the force responsible for inspiring a future generation of astronauts, engineers, physicists, and mathematicians; a new generation of space cowboys and cowgirls!

Reflecting on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Birthday Celebration, Black History Month, and beyond, we are invited to view Dr. King through a new lens, that of a man ahead of his time, as well as the incomparable freedom fighter we’ve come to know. He was the force responsible for inspiring a future generation of astronauts, engineers, physicists, and mathematicians; a new generation of space cowboys and cowgirls!

There is an interesting story told about how actress Nichelle Nichols, famous for playing Star Trek’s Lieutenant Uhura, was influenced by Dr. King. Nichols had begun her career in show business singing with the Duke Ellington and Lionel Hampton bands. She believed the Broadway stage was her true calling until an unforgettable encounter with King convinced the talented actress to remain on the popular sci-fi show.

Nichelle Nichols as “Lieutenant Uhura” in the original Star Trek television show. fuzzyundertones.com

After informing Gene Roddenberry of her intentions, she directed her steps towards Broadway. Roddenberry was the brilliant creator and producer of the Star Trek series. Before leaving, however, she had a historic moment during a chance conversation with the noted civil rights leader. During the 1960s, there were no other Black females on television in non-stereotypical roles. Lieutenant Uhura, as the communications officer for the Starship Enterprise, became a role-model for African Americans. In addition, her unique Star Trek portrayal was an inspiration for women and other minorities.

King, an avowed Trekkie himself, explained to Nichols that she could not give up her positive presence on the award-winning television show. He exclaimed, “You can’t, you’re a part of history!” To Dr. King, her presence was influential, inspiring a generation of young people to shoot for the stars.

Thanks in large measure to her trailblazing television role, Nichelle Nichols gave hope to many that careers in space exploration and the sciences were dreams that were achievable. She became a successful recruiter for both NASA (the National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and the AMA (Analytical Mechanics Associates).

The first woman in space, astronaut Sally Ride, and the first African American woman in space, astronaut Mae Jemison, were both recruited by Nichols. She also recruited Charles Bolden, the current NASA administrator.

Other African American space pioneers include Dr. Guion “Guy” Bluford the first African American in space; Joan Higgenbotham, who has flown on the Space Shuttle Discovery for over 12 days in space; Dr. Ronald McNair, who was tragically killed in the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, and Stephanie Wilson, a flight engineer logging over 42 days in space where she operated her ship’s robotic arm.

Dr. King’s vision was a gentle nudge that continues to pay dividends for all of humanity. As we educate and utilize the skills and abilities of all, we confidently blast-off to a place “where no man has gone before.”

View the interview when Nichols recalls her conversation with Gene Roddenberry and the encounter with Dr. King.

Careers In Curiosity: To Infinity and Beyond!

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Jason Heaton, Assistant Director of Astronomy

What was your childhood dream job? Ballerina? Fire Fighter? Marine Biologist? Everyone is different, but it is certainly a rarity to be so inspired by something that you make it your life’s work. Jason Heaton, the Museum’s Assistant Director of Astronomy, visited the Boonshoft Museum as a little boy and fell in love with the possibilities that the night sky provided.

For this month’s Careers In Curiosity post, our guest blogger and Planetarium expert extraordinaire, Jason, will talk a little bit about running a Planetarium, teaching children and adults about our Solar System, and much more. Check out his blog below:

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In 2003 I had the chance to meet Neil Armstrong

Hello, Nice To Meet You

My name is Jason Heaton and I am the Assistant Director of Astronomy at the Dayton Society of Natural History. The Astronomy department at the Boonshoft houses an observatory, a planetarium, and astronomy related exhibits.

How I Started in Astronomy

My career in astronomy began at the Boonshoft when I was a child. My parents enrolled me in the Boonshoft summer programs for many years. I

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The NASA sponsored Exoplanets exhibit, produced by the Boonshoft Astronomy Department

loved archaeology, paleontology, and the activities at SunWatch, but the planetarium was by far my favorite. An energetic and hilarious planetarium director named Art Goss inspired me and fueled my love for the night sky.

In school, science classes were my favorite. I went to college at the University of Dayton, enrolling in Aerospace Engineering. I began working in the planetarium as a part time job while I was in school.  During that time, I fell in love with astronomical visualization…making

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A planetarium audience rides an Ice Slide set on Jupiter’s moon, Europa.

the stars come to life in the planetarium. I graduated U.D. with a degree in Computer Animation. I have been working for the Museum ever since, for more than twenty years now.

The Best Part of Working in the Astronomy Department

We do many different things in our department. We build astronomy exhibits such as the Exoplanet exhibit which recently opened. We house the Apollo Observatory, a large telescope open for free to the public on clear Friday nights. We have many different types of events that happen in the planetarium, people have proposed marriage, live bands have played, and astronauts have lectured. We have created planetarium shows and astronomical visualizations that have been shown around the world.  However, my favorite thing about working in the astronomy department is presenting the live shows about the night sky in the Dome.

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Speaking of magic, the planetarium is also one of the main stages for Harry Potter Camp, where I play Professor Starbuck, the Hogwarts summer school astronomy teacher.

Someone once said that as people we all have one thing in common…we all look up at the stars at some point in our lives and wonder. The planetarium is a unique place. When I was a child, it was magical.  People come to our planetarium to learn about the sky and experience that same feeling of wonder and magic.

As a presenter, I have witnessed the same feeling of magic in the eyes of children coming to the star shows. They will often come back after the show and ask a million questions, it becomes obvious that they will leave the museum loving the stars the same way I have.

Future Generations

You never know who is going to come into the planetarium and become a future astronaut or astronomer. The first person on Mars may be someone who is in school right now. The astronomers who find the first Earth-like planet; the mission specialist onboard a future space station; the scientists that will help us get back to the Moon; all of these people have one thing in common: someone, or something, inspired them and their love of the night sky, perhaps in a planetarium like ours.

6 Tips and Tricks You Need To Know To Become a Star Gazing Pro!

Stop what you are doing immediately. If you are indoors, on a computer just take a break and go outside, if you are on a mobile device enjoying the great outdoors simply look up. What do you see? Pristine sky, a gorgeous sunset, a mysteriously shaped cloud that looks vaguely similar to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (of Ghostbusters fame)? We digress—often, we take the awe-inspiring vastness of our sky and space for granted. In the grand scheme of things we are pretty small, so it’s easy to not think about the limitlessness of space and just how special our Solar System is.

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If you really want to know how small you are, check out the video above!

From a giant amber Harvest Moon to Halley’s Comet, our night sky holds dozens of beautiful displays of science and physics. One of the things most commonly appreciated by the public are meteor showers, so we asked Joe, Astronomy Department member, resident astrophysicist, and (now) guest blogger, to give us some tips and tricks on which meteor showers are best and how we can see them with the naked eye.

Click below to read Joe’s Guest Blog.

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