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.

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Celebrating Science During Black History Month!

In February you’re on the look-out for Rosie’s shadow and something sweet for your Valentine, but most importantly, February is a month dedicated to the celebration of African Americans and their accomplishments, contributions, and impact on society. We are celebrating by exploring some of our favorite African American scientists, academics, historians, and more.  In an extension of our ongoing conversation about opportunities for careers in science fields — that lasts all year long! — we wanted to delve into the underrepresentation of minorities in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers.

The Challenge:

Like women and other minority groups, African American men are underrepresented in the STEM workforce. In fact, 2010 Census data shows that African American men made up 6.2% of the population between 18 and 64, yet the National Science Foundation reported just 3% of scientists and engineers working in those fields are African American.

In 2015, a round table of African American STEM professionals cited a lack of resources, failing school systems, role models, and “relatability”. The proposed solutions to these problems are similar to ones that help entice women into STEM careers—start teaching and engaging students sooner and build up their self-confidence in the face of self-doubt.

Being Part of a Solution:

The Boonshoft Museum is doing its part to engage young students across multiple cultural, economic, and scholastic backgrounds by making a promise to our community to open its doors, free to the public, four times a year. New for 2016, these free Saturdays, known as Super Science Saturday, will feature enhanced science-based public programming, planetarium shows, roaming animals, and much, much more–all day, all free to the public. In addition to Super Science Saturdays, during the Dayton Regional Science Festival we also offer free field trip programming to qualifying schools so children can meet with STEM professionals, Universities, and Colleges in our community, in addition to having special programming throughout the Museum with our trained Museum Educators.

Some of our Favorites

At the Boonshoft Museum we do everything with a science-twist, so when we asked some of our educators and administrators to talk about their favorite African American figures, naturally we saw an array of scientists, medical professionals, historians, and more!

Mae C. Jemison

Mae-jemisonThe first female African American astronaut in space, Mae Jemison is a favorite of our Astronomy Department and Museum Educator, Robin Ramsey. In 1992 from September 12 to 20, Jemison flew into space aboard the Endeavour as a mission specialist. Her love for the sciences as a child followed her through her adulthood, as she attended Stanford University and received a bachelor degree in chemical engineering and then attended Cornell Medical College. Jamison was not only the first African American female astronaut in space, she is our favorite kind of philanthropist, creating the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, which encourages children’s interests in science!

Regina Benjamin

ReginaBenjaminTiarra Callahan, our Special Events Coordinator admires Regina Benjamin, humanitarian and U.S. Surgeon General from 2009-2013.

“During her time as the surgeon general, Benjamin took on a wellness and prevention stance. She focused on maintaining a healthy body as opposed to a treat-sickness paradigm. As such, coordinating efforts with a number of federal agencies, she emphasized the importance of nutritious foods, regular exercise (including dance) and cessation of smoking. She also supported breastfeeding, including creating more spaces where women could do so comfortably, and exploring issues around suicide.

When I learned she was resigning as Surgeon General I was sad, but I later found that she would be returning to the La Batre clinic, where some of her patients could not afford to seek medical attention if it had not been for her efforts to make the clinic affordable. Over the length of her career, she has received many honorary degrees and accolades, including the Nelson Mandela Award for Health and Human Rights and the National Caring Award.”

Emmett W. Chappelle

Emmett_W_ChappelleCertainly, our Live Animals Department are huge fans of all-things-animals, but one of our Keepers, Steve, is a big fan of Emmett W. Chappelle.

“Someone that inspires me to keep on giving my all would have to be Emmett W. Chappelle, environmental scientist and biochemist,” Steve noted.

Chappelle lived on a small farm on the edge of town in Phoenix, AZ where his family grew cotton and tended to cows. After serving in the army, Chapelle attended Phoenix College and earned his B.S. from University of California. His degree in biology gave him the tools he needed to aid in the creation of safe supply of oxygen to astronauts and discovered how using a chemical derived from fireflies could detect life in water on Mars. He also served as an instructor at a medical college.

Theresa Singleton

Singleton,T 2013Jeff White, the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery Springfield’s site manager is not only an educator he is a trained archaeologist—so naturally, he admires Associate Professor of Anthropology, Theresa Singleton. She was the first African-American to receive a PhD with a concentration in archaeology and the first African American to receive a J.C. Award in Historical Archaeology. Singleton specializes in Historical Archaeology, African American History & Culture, Slavery in plantation America, and Archaeology of the African Diaspora.

Not to be outdone, Theresa Singleton also joins Archaeologist, John Wesley Gilbert, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, and Ernest Everett Just, just a few more of Jeff’s favorites!

You and your family can learn more about famous African American scientists by clicking here.