Repost: And More of our African American Astronauts

>> Thursday, February 12, 2015

Reposted from my Today blog in 2009:

For those of you who were surprised how many African American astronauts there were, let me tell you, you didn’t know the half of it because I have eight more to tell you about.  If someone ever tells you black people can’t do the math or the science or handle complex concepts (as if Obama isn’t sufficient evidence to the contrary), take a good look at some of the talent NASA has been proud to accept into one of the most difficult and most elite technical jobs there are.  

As I mentioned on the comments on yesterday’s blog, most astronauts have multiple degrees, even multiple PhD’s.  Some are medical doctors, most are pilots (some are both).  And our astronaut corps is wonderfully diverse.

So, without more ado:

Frederick D. Gregory is not only a former astronaut, he is also a former NASA administrator (acting during the lag between Sean O’Keefe and Michael Griffin).  Another pilot and test pilot, he was accepted into the corps in 1978.  He was the pilot for STS-51B in 1985 (SpaceLab mission).  He was also the first African American to command a flight which he did for STS-33 (Department of Defense mission) and then commanded STS-44 (another DoD mission). He was also, at one time, my boss at HQ.  He led Office of Safety and Mission Assurance for nine years at NASA.  When I rocked the boat in 1996, he’s the one that backed me all the way to the top and made changes to how we fly that are still in practice.
Bernard Anthony Harris, Jr. set another first for African Americans in space.  A flight surgeon and a
clinical scientist, he worked on research for the effects of low gravity on people and countermeasures for it.  He was selected for the astronaut corps in 1990 and flight as a mission specialist on STS-55 in 1991 and flew again on STS-63 in 1995 where he was the first African American to go on a spacewalk (but not the last!).  Harris retired from the astronaut core in 1996.

  
Mae Carol Jamison was the first African American in space, but she had a pretty exciting life even beyond that.  She danced.  She entered Stanford University at 16.  She got a BS in chemical engineering four years later and her medical degree four years after that.  She worked as a Peace Corps Medical Officer.  Inspired by Nichelle Nichols, Jamison was accepted into the astronaut corps in 1987 and flew her only mission on STS-47 in 1992.  She retired from NASA in 1993 (to NASA’s dismay) and has the distinction of being the first real astronaut to ever appear on Star Trek (The Next Generation).  And she’s done much more besides.  Check out the link for more.
Joan Elizabeth Higgenbotham has multiple degrees and flew as a payload
specialist on STS-116, the first mission with two African American crewmembers (including Robert Curbeam from yesterday).
Leland Devon Melvin has degrees in Chemistry and Materials Science Engineering and played football as a wide receiver at the University of Richmond and even “drafted” by the Detroit Lions in 1986 (Yes, kids you can be athletic and smart, too.  Astronauts prove it regularly.), but repeated injuries killed that career. After working as an engineer at Langley Research Center, he was selected as an astronaut in 1998.  Since joining NASA he has been co-manager of NASA’s Educator Astronaut Program, no doubt inspiring children and reminding them about why we need a space program.  He flew as a mission specialist on STS-122 in 2008.

Robert Lee Satcher Jr . (born on September 22, 1965) is a physician, chemical engineer, and NASA astronaut.  He has an MD as well as a doctorate in Chemical Engineering, with experience in oncology and biomedical engineering.  He hasn’t yet flown, but he’s ready to go.

Winston Scott courtesy of NASAWinston Elliot Scott has a masters in aeronautical engineering, a 2nd degree black belt in Shotokan karate and plays the trumpet.  He’s also a navy pilot with 4000 hours flying 20 different aircraft, including helicopters, fighter aircraft and civilian craft.  Oh, and he’s also an astronaut, flying on STS-72 in 1996 where he performed a spacewalk and STS-87 in 1997 where he performed two more.  He retired from NASA in 1999.
Stephanie Diana Wilson is the second African American woman to go into

space.  She has a master’s degree in aerospace engineering.  Before becoming an astronaut, she worked for Martin Marrietta and then Jet Propulsion Laboratory on the Galileo spacecraft.  She was selected to be an astronaut in 1996 and has flown as a mission specialist on both STS-120 in 2007 and STS-121 in 2006, both ISS assembly missions.  She is currently training to fly on STS-131 in 2010.

As can be readily seen, there’s a wealth of talent and intelligence here, as well as countless hours of hard work.  And, in the end, that’s what you really need to be an astronaut.

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Repost: Some of our African American Astronauts

>> Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Report from former blog:

As a departure from the tragedies of the past week, I would like to embrace and celebrate Black History Month.  In fact, I’m all for celebrating the achievements of people at any opportunity.
I am not black and, to the best of my knowledge, I have no black ancestry.  It wouldn’t bother me if that were not the case, but, there it is.  However, I would like to take the opportunity to celebrate the achievements and accomplishments of those of African or Aboriginal (would some Asian races qualify?  Could someone clarify this?) throughout the world and throughout history.  I think it will be a journey for me, since Africa is perhaps the continent I know the least about.  I do want to know more.

This is an opportunity for me and I hope you enjoy the journey since I intend to share it with you.
In keeping with my rocket scienciness, I’m going to start by telling you about some of NASA’s African American astronauts:

First, as a sad note, Michael Phillip Anderson , the African-American astronaut to perish on STS-107 (Columbia).  Physicist, communication expert and pilot, he flew on STS-89 in 1998 (Shuttle-Mir mission) and was the Payload Commander for STS-107, where he perished with the rest of the crew on February 1, 2003. Ronald Ervin McNair courtesy of NASA On Challenger, we lost another African-American astronaut, Ronald Ervin McNair , Ph.D.  Another physicist, with a Ph.D. from MIT, Dr. McNair was a well-rounded individual with a fifth degree black belt in karate who happened to play the saxophone [Ed:  musical talent is actually fairly common among the astronauts].  Recruited by NASA by actress Nichelle Nichols (of the original Star Trek fame), he flew on STS-41B in February 1984 (also on Challenger) where he played the saxophone for posterity.  He flew again, briefly, on STS-51L and perished with his crew on January 28, 1986. 


Robert H. Lawrence, Jr . (Ph.D.) was actually the first African-American to be accepted into the astronaut corps.  With a Ph.D. in Physical Chemistry and a background as a test pilot, he was well qualified to become an astronaut, and was accepted into the astronaut corps in June 1967.  However, a tragic accident during a training flight with him as instructor ended in his death only months after joining the program. Guy Bluford, Jr. on STS-53 courtesy of NASA Guion “Guy” Bluford, Jr. (Ph.D) is the first African American* to go into space.  With a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering (and a minor in laser physics), 144 combat missions of flying experience in Vietnam, he became an astronaut in 1979.  He first flew on STS-8 in 1983, then flew three other missions,  STS-61A in 1985, STS-39 in 1991, and STS-53 in 1992.  He retired from the astronaut corps in 1993.

Charles F. Bolden, Jr . was a naval aviator that flew more than 100 sorties into North and South Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, in the A-6A Intruder during the Vietnam war.  Impressive enough credentials, one might think, even without the degrees in electrical science and systems management.  NASA thought so too and accepted him into the astronaut corps in 1980.  Between that and his retirement from the corps in 1994, he served as pilot on two missions: STS-61C in 1986, STS-31 in 1990 (Hubble Space Telescope launch) and commanded two other missions: STS-45 (first SpaceLab mission) and STS-60 (the first joint US/Russian Shuttle mission). He is now the Director for ALL of NASA. Yvonne Darlene Cagle, MD courtesy of NASA
Yvonne Darlene Cagle is a medical doctor and female astronaut currently assigned to the Life Sciences Directorate at JSC.  Apparently, she likes to write historical novels.  How cool is that?


Robert Lee Curbeam, Jr . joined the astronaut corps in 1994, another naval aviator with degrees in aerospace and aeronautical engineering, he has flown on three missions: STS-85 in 1997, STS-98 in 2001 and STS-116.  On STS-116 he set the record for the most spacewalks (EVAs) on one flight - four.  EVA takes a great deal out of one, so that’s no mean achievement.  I happen to have worked with Mr. Curbeam and it was a real pleasure - he’s talented, intelligent, pleasant and a pleasure to work with.  He announced his retired from the astronaut corps in 2007. B. Alvin Drew courtesy of NASA B. Alvin Drew is a Command Pilot with 3000 hours flying time in over 30 types of aircraft, including helicopters and fighter craft for both rescue and combat missions in the middle East. He also has degrees in both physics and aeronautical engineering.  Selected for the astronaut corps in 200, he has flown one mission, STS-118 in 2007.

But, wait, there’s more.  And tomorrow I’ll include the rest of the African American astronauts.  Note that the links are generally to Wikipedia because they link to many other useful places.  Revel a bit in the talent NASA has drawn.

*The first person of African descent in space was actually a Cuban cosmonaut,  Arnaldo Tamayo Méndez .  Recruited from the Cuban Air Force through the Soviet Intecosmos program, he was launched on Soyuz 38 with Yuri Romanenko to rendezvous with Salyut 6 on orbit in 1980.

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Dear Spiders . . .

>> Saturday, January 24, 2015

Dear spiders,

As a mature, well-educated, scientifically-minded and compassionate adult, I know that spiders are beneficial critters, beautiful, talented, dainty and deadly, largely to bugs which, lets face it, don't appeal much to me. As exoskeletal creatures go, spiders rank at the top for me. Logically.

Unfortunately, my response when unexpectedly faced with a spider is generally not driven by logic. So, in my best interest and yours (because, though talented and venomous, I have a weight advantage and am not afraid to use it), there are certain ground rules which, if you follow, will certain serve your life expectancy well.

As a good host, there are places in my house that are well suited for spider occupation, both because of low traffic, but also because one is less likely to scare the crap out of me and get reflexively killed. However, I must warn you that spiders that I recognize as deadly venomous will not get a chance to plead the fifth - and I know what you look like, so you'd best find a more congenial host,.

For instance, my garage is fair game for any non-lethal spiders since I try not to go in there anywhere but the freezer and, if something else must be fetched, try to find someone else to do it. Also, the tops of my windows, which you'll be pleased to know are never cleaned, are fair game as they are out of reach of most of my cats and my children and are generally covered by window treatments. As my house is frequently dark (and is not high on bugs) that might be a good hunting place anyway. If you are so adventurous as to take out a wasp (a creature I loathe inside my house), and I see evidence of such in your web, I will actively work to preserve your life. My son's closet is another spot as he can't open the door (because a very heavy bunkbed blocks it and the far corners of the high ceilings in my room are also fine as long as you have the good sense not to drop on me or my children. You can also amuse yourself in my cupboard with wine glasses since I bought them with my ex-husband in mind and never use them.

Places I would avoid involve the pantry, since it's ill lit and I'm likely to freak out, on or around where my children sleep (which isn't safe for you anyway), anywhere you're likely to land on me or stationed in my bath or shower in such a way you land on me. The tiny spider that's taken up residence in the corner of the shelf is welcome to stay (though the bath you took earlier may change your mind) as long as you don't (a) grow to monstrous size, (b) turn out to be a baby recluse (since you're definitely not a black widow), (c) move somewhere where you might be tempted to drop on me or (d) hatch a million microscopic spiders and take over the shower stall.

I'm hopeful, with this understanding, we can all learn to live in harmony.

Sincerely,

Stephanie

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Martin Luther King Day

>> Monday, January 19, 2015

There are few men in history I admire as whole-heartedly as Martin Luther King, Jr, not just for what he did - catalyzing a change that makes the issues we're dealing with today even possible - but for what he stood for and walking the impressive talk he had. And that talk he lived was well worth hearing and remembering today.




A time comes when silence is betrayal.
                                                                        --Martin Luther King, Jr.

Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
                                                                        --Martin Luther King, Jr.

Nothing pains some people more than having to think.
                                                                        --Martin Luther King, Jr.

Peace is not the absence of war, but the presence of justice
                                                                        --Martin Luther King, Jr.

Cowardice asks the question, 'Is it safe?' Expediency asks the question, 'Is it politic?' And Vanity comes along and asks the question, 'Is it popular?' But Conscience asks the question 'Is it right?' And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must do it because Conscience tells him it is right.
- Martin Luther King



Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
- Martin Luther King, Jr.



The time is always right to do what is right.
                        -Martin Luther King Jr.

You know my friends, there comes a time when people get tired of being trampled by the iron feet of oppression ... If we are wrong, the Supreme Court of this nation is wrong. If we are wrong, the Constitution of the United States is wrong. And if we are wrong, God Almighty is wrong. If we are wrong, Jesus of Nazareth was merely a utopian dreamer that never came down to Earth. If we are wrong, justice is a lie, love has no meaning. And we are determined here in Montgomery to work and fight until justice runs down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don't know each other; they don't know each other because they can not communicate; they can not communicate because they are separated.
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral, begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy. Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. So it goes. ... Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Many of the ugly pages of American history have been obscured and forgotten. A society is always eager to cover misdeeds with a cloak of forgetfulness, but no society can fully repress an ugly past when the ravages persist into the present. America owes a debt of justice which it has only begun to pay. If it loses the will to finish or slackens in its determination, history will recall its crimes and the country that would be great will lack the most element of greatness — justice.
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Softmindedness often invades religion. ... Softminded persons have revised the Beautitudes to read "Blessed are the pure in ignorance: for they shall see God." This has led to a widespread belief that there is a conflict between science and religion. But this is not true. There may be a conflict between softminded religionists and toughminded scientists, but not between science and religion. ... Science investigates; religion interprets. Science gives man knowledge which is power; religion gives man wisdom which is control. Science deals mainly with facts; religion deals mainly with values. The two are not rivals. They are complementary.
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

There is little hope for us until we become toughminded enough to break loose from the shackles of prejudice, half-truths, and downright ignorance. The shape of the world today does not permit us the luxury of softmindedness. A nation or civilization that continues to produce softminded men purchases its own spiritual death on the installment plan.
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. So when Jesus says "Love your enemies," he is setting forth a profound and ultimately inescapable admonition. ... The chain reaction of evil — hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars — must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation.
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true.
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts the human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality. It gives the segregator a false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends.
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges. But there is something that I must say to my people who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice. In the process of gaining our rightful place we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred.
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral questions of our time — the need for mankind to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression. Civilization and violence are antithetical concepts… Sooner or later all the people of the world will have to discover a way to live together in peace, and thereby transform this pending cosmic elegy into a creative psalm of brotherhood. If this is to be achieved, man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the "isness" of man's present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal "oughtness" that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsam and jetsam in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality. I refuse to accept the cynical notion that nation after nation must spiral down a militaristic stairway into the hell of thermonuclear destruction. I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a "thing-oriented" society to a "person-oriented" society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Here is the true meaning and value of compassion and nonviolence, when it helps us to see the enemy's point of view, to hear his questions, to know his assessment of ourselves. For from his view we may indeed see the basic weaknesses of our own condition, and if we are mature, we may learn and grow and profit from the wisdom of the brothers who are called the opposition.
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

We can no longer afford to worship the god of hate or bow before the altar of retaliation. The oceans of history are made turbulent by the ever-rising tides of hate. And history is cluttered with the wreckage of nations and individuals that pursued this self-defeating path of hate.
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Don't let anybody make you think God chose America as his divine messianic force to be a sort of policeman of the whole world. God has a way of standing before the nations with justice and it seems I can hear God saying to America "you are too arrogant, and if you don't change your ways, I will rise up and break the backbone of your power, and I will place it in the hands of a nation that doesn't even know my name. Be still and know that I'm God. Men will beat their swords into plowshafts and their spears into pruning hooks, and nations shall not rise up against nations, neither shall they study war anymore." I don't know about you, I ain't going to study war anymore.
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

This is leading a few extremists today to advocate for Negroes the same destructive and conscienceless power that they have justly abhorred in whites. It is precisely this collision of immoral power with powerless morality which constitutes the major crisis of our times.
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

I say to you today that I still stand by nonviolence. And I am still convinced that it is the most potent weapon available to the Negro in his struggle for justice in this country. And the other thing is that I am concerned about a better world. I'm concerned about justice. I'm concerned about brotherhood. I'm concerned about truth. And when one is concerned about these, he can never advocate violence. For through violence you may murder a murderer but you can't murder murder. Through violence you may murder a liar but you can't establish truth. Through violence you may murder a hater, but you can't murder hate. Darkness cannot put out darkness. Only light can do that.
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

Everything that we see is a shadow cast by that which we do not see.
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted, or Beethoven played music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will pause to say, here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well.


                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.



In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.

                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.



Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.

                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.



The art of acceptance is the art of making someone who has just done you a small favor wish that he might have done you a greater one.

                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.



The first question which the priest and the Levite asked was: "If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?" But... the good Samaritan reversed the question: "If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?"

                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.



The greatest sin of our time is not the few who have destroyed but the vast majority who sat idly by.

                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.



The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.

                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.



Violence as a way of achieving racial justice is both impractical and immoral. It is impractical because it is a descending spiral ending in destruction for all. The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind.

                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.

True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.
                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.


The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

                        -Martin Luther King, Jr.



I know that love is ultimately the only answer to mankind's problems. And I'm going to talk about it everywhere I go. I know it isn't popular to talk about it in some circles today. I'm not talking about emotional bosh when I talk about love, I'm talking about a strong, demanding love. And I have seen too much hate... I have decided to love. If you are seeking the highest good, I think you can find it through love. And the beautiful thing is that we are moving against wrong when we do it, because John was right, God is love. He who hates does not know God, but he who has love has the key that unlocks the door to the meaning of ultimate reality.
-     Martin Luther King, Jr.              

 
 

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