Brothas in Space
In case you missed it, NASA landed a mobile laboratory the size of a Mini Cooper on the surface of Mars on Sunday. According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the Curiosity rover will be “searching for past or present life, studying the Martian climate, studying Martian geology, and collecting data for a future manned mission to Mars (the future is now bro)”. Photos from Mars have already been sent from Curiosity. The rover has color, 3-D and high-definition cameras, a laser than can break apart space rocks and it was dropped from a jet propelled space crane.
The reaction to the landing by the NASA mission team went viral as millions of people witnessed spiritual jubilation of some of the nerdiest and smartest people in the country. I truly understood the magnitude of the team’s success once I watched the live feed of the scientists and engineers crying and hugging with cathartic elation.
Science, it’ll touch your heart.
The only event I can compare this video to is when President Obama won the election. I was at Spelman College and BET reporters were there, so Black happiness was at a historical high. My uncle called me and said “Good job nephew, ya’ll did it”. I was like “Yeah, we did”, as I smiled and wiped a cinematic tear from my eye. But all I did to contribute to that great achievement was knock on a few doors and survey voter complaints. Even though these NASA engineers spent decades working on this Mars mission, I still couldn’t help but compare the two joyous events. The juxtaposed images revealed a stark contrast in my mind, as clear as black and white.
There may have been other rooms at the JPL where other NASA employees jumped for joy. I’m sure they don’t stream a live feed of every room. Still, I found it curious that there were no Black people to be found in that sea of celebration. I was so perplexed, partially because my go-to image of a mission control center is the one from Armageddon, and there was always at least one Black person in the room.
I was also confused because I was a Ronald E. McNair scholar in college. The program’s mission is to increase the attainment of PhD science degrees by students from underrepresented groups like first-generation students and ethnic and racial minorities. They funded my research at Morehouse, so I was constantly surrounded by Black men who were beasts in math, science and astronomy.
I scoured the interwebs and through the viral frenzy for a photo of at least one Black JSL engineer reacting to the mission. Finally, I came across a BuzzFeed post that showed a Black NASA employee, administrator Charles Bolden, in tears of joy.
And he was alone.
I know there have been thousands of Black employees who have worked and still work for NASA. There have been several Black astronauts, but the list is comprised of 16 individuals since 1983. These sixteen marvelous achievers have reached great heights, but I think they could use some darker company.
Unfortunately, the state of Black representation in the fields required to become a NASA engineer is sub-par. Even though we’re 12% of the population and 11% of all students beyond high school, we receive 7% of bachelor’s degrees and 4% of master’s degrees in science fields. The American Psychological Aossiaciation stated that 6,957 PhDs were awarded in 2009 and only 88 went to Black men 176 went to Black women. Combined, that’s less than 4%.
The future is happening right before our eyes. The Higgs Boson particle was just discovered, cyborgs exist and Mars might end up being inhabitable (with the right amount of ingenuity). When the Earth finally begins to fall apart from our relentless exploitation of its resources, the human race is going to need to get the fuck outta dodge. When NASA starts sending astronauts to Mars to establish human colonies, I’m going to need some Black representation. It is imperative that we involve ourselves in these missions. After all of the shit we’ve put up with on Earth, we deserve our spot in the solar system.
The National Science Foundation stated that
“Many of our most talented and determined lower-income students and minority students traditionally underrepresented in STEM are never identified or given an equal opportunity to realize their enormous potential, and, therefore, constitute a considerable source of untapped talent”.
The NSF pointed to gaps in the quality of education children of different races and socioeconomic statuses receive. They also mentioned how “society almost universally applauds certain areas of [black] talent—sports in particular, and to a lesser extent music and the arts. In contrast, intellectual talent often generates attitudes ranging from ambivalence to outright hostility”. So essentially, Black folk get love for winning gold in the Olympics, but suffer a $10 million cut to the Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program.
The federal Department of Education announced the cut this spring. The McNair program has helped many minorities and vulnerable students become stellar scientists and engineers. And they cut more than a third of the running programs during the year of the future! The year is only half-way done and we’ve already put 3D cameras on Mars and literally discovered why we matter. Cuts to programs like the Ronald E. McNair program are detrimental to this nation’s equity and scientific study overall. Just look at how cuts to the program impacted the schools in Wisconsin.
And minorities in Wisconsin need as much help as they can get.
I’ve signed as many petitions as possible to help end this blind massacre of futures by the US Senate. Unfortunately the political climate and our economic health has resulted in massive cuts to educational programs. These cuts effect all Americans, but the most vulnerable children will suffer the most. I’ve attending more than 20 schools, from public to private, from Montessori to Quaker, from hood to suburban. I have witnessed disparities in the education system first hand. I’ve been told that I needed to be held back, when I actually needed to skip a grade. I’ve seen how crappy my books were at the Black high school compared to the white high school. I’ve had to deal with racist teachers and stereotype threat. There are plenty of obstacles to face as an African-American trying to succeed, the adversity doesn’t need to be compounded by budget cuts.
I try to do my part by voting at every election, mentoring young Black males and supporting protests to cuts of this sort. Others may help our interplanetary future by studying and researching in fields of science, technology, engineering and math. There may be a Black NASA employee reading this right now. To that person, and anyone else trying gain more knowledge and improve our status in the universe, thank you. Thank you for your dedication, hard work, skepticism and inquiry. The more we expand our world, the less we will care about superficial distinctions.
Godspeed for human progress.