African American Women of NASA

workers at NASA
Mary Jackson (left) and Katherine Johnson (right) at work at NASA.

Three, two, one…blastoff! Would you ever want to work for NASA? It would be a big responsibility, but very rewarding.

In 1957, the Space Race [a competition between the United States and Soviet Union] was in full swing. The Soviet Union had sent the first satellite into space. The United States was working to catch up. NASA needed strong mathematicians and engineers to help get us into orbit fast.

The 1950’s and 1960’s didn’t have many opportunities for African American women to pursue careers in science. However, NASA needed the best brains for the job. Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan knew they had what it took. Although brilliant, these women had to work harder than others to prove they belonged due to their race and gender. They stuck with it, and their hard work paid off. They became engineers for the space program.

Before them, engineering was mostly a white man’s world. Without them, the United States space program might not have been as successful as it was. In 2016, Hidden Figures, a book and a movie based on these women was released.

Jackson, Johnson, and Vaughan helped pave the way for other African American women to work at NASA. In 1992, Mae Jemison, an engineer and physician, was selected as one of seven members to travel on the space shuttle mission STS-47. She was the first African American woman to travel in space, and spent over a week in orbit. Jemison is proud of her achievement, and believes that minorities need to be given opportunities to show just how much they have to give. She says “never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations.”

Every day, and especially during Black History Month, we honor achievements such as these.

What do you think?  What did Mae Jemison mean when she said, says “never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations”? What would you like to achieve?

Photo Credit: NASA Langley Research Center