SLUG: 7-37214 Dateline: African-Americans in Space
DATE=February 24, 2003
TITLE=African-Americans in Space
DISK: DATELINE THEME [PLAYED IN STUDIO, FADED UNDER DATELINE HOST VOICE OR PROGRAMMING MATERIAL]
HOST: The tragic death of African-American astronaut Michael P. Anderson aboard the shuttle Columbia during Black History Month made the nation pause and think of those other African-Americans who were chosen to fly in space. More now in this special Dateline report written by Marsha James. Here's Neal Lavon.
NL: Becoming an astronaut and accepting the responsibility of blasting off into space requires dedication, stamina, bravery, and mental toughness. Dr. Guion [GEE-yon] Bluford, Jr. was one of those astronauts who accepted the challenge. In 1979, he was the first African-American astronaut chosen by the National Aeronautics and Space Agency.NASA.
TAPE: CUT 1, BLUFORD JR, :15
"In (19)77 NASA started looking for astronauts for the space program for the new vehicle called the shuttle and so I applied and I was fortunate to be selected in 1978."
NL: While he was training to become a mission specialist, Dr. Bluford says he noticed that NASA was beginning to seek out astronauts who "looked like America."
TAPE: CUT 2, BLUFORD, :20
"There were 35 people in our class, there were 15 test pilots and 20 mission specialists who were scientist and engineers. I was one of those mission specialists and I came in with Sally Ride and a bunch of other people.including three African-Americansmyself, Ronald McNair, and Frederick Gregory."
SOUND: SNEAK SOUND OF ENDEAVOR, :09, FADE OUT UNDER:
NL: On August 30, 1983, the STS-8, or Challenger, launched from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Aboard was America's first black astronaut, Dr. Guion Bluford. After working on several experiments and space station operations, he realized that he had the honor of being first African-American in space.
TAPE: CUT 3, BLUFORD, :12
"I was excited about the opportunity to fly into space. I think everybody that comes into the program is anxious to fly in space. I was anxious like everybody else. I was very pleased to get selected to fly in space."
NL: Dr. Bluford realized he was not just fulfilling a mission, but making history.
TAPE: CUT 4, BLUFORD, :13
"I also recognized later on that it was a historical event and because of that my biggest concern was to really set the example, do really a good job in representing African- Americans as I flew in space."
NL: Dr. Bluford became a veteran of four space flights, logging over 688 hours in space. His success blazed the trail for others. On September 12, 1992, Dr. Mae C. Jemison became the first African-America woman to orbit the Earth as a crew member of the space shuttle, Endeavour. She remembers clearly how her journey into space began.with a phone call.
TAPE: CUT 5, JEMISON, :05
"I got a call saying are you still interested and I said 'yea'."
NL: She joined the astronaut program in June 1987,and although she brought the knowledge she gained as a chemical engineer and former Peace Corps medical officer in West Africa, she learned a lot as well.
TAPE: CUT 6, JEMISON, :56
"My task while I was with NASA was not to immediately start training for space flight, because it takes a while before you are assigned to a mission, but I did things like help to support the launch of vehicles at Kennedy Space Center. I was in the first class of astronauts selected after the Challenger accident back in 1986, and the very first assignment I had was working at Kennedy Space Center. I saw the launch and in fact actually worked the launch of the first flight after the Challenger accident. I worked at the shuttle avionics integration laboratory, which is where all the software that flies the space shuttle is tested. So, you have lots of jobs that you do to support human space flight, and that's of other crews; that's of making sure you are looking at the vehicles, following the vehicles. I actually followed Columbia while I was at Kennedy Space Center, back in the late 1980s early 1990s and that is a part and that is very important to the training process."
NL: During her flight as a science mission specialist, she conducted experiments to study the effects of zero gravity on people and animals, and co-investigated an experiment into bone cell research.
Now as a former astronaut, Dr. Jemison continues to conduct experiments in life and material sciences.
TAPE: CUT 7, JEMISON :57
"Since I left NASA in 1993, I've been involved with the Jemison Group, which is a technology and consulting company and we look at specifically how do you look at socio- cultural, political, environmental, economic issues when you design technology. My focus right now is on a new start-up company that I call BioSentient Corporation and it is really about putting together equipment that people can wear that collects physiological data and you barely know that you have the equipment on. Why do you need to do that because it is important to understand what's going on with people. As their walking around day-to-day we will be able to collect that information and understand what's happening to them.
And the other emphasis of BioSentient is teaching people how to regulate their own physiologic responses to things. Whether its in terms of headache, it's in terms of stressing, anxiety reactions, things like that. We look at physiological awareness and self-regulation."
NL: Having an understanding of science and technology has always been a part of Dr. Jemison's life. She says African-Americans have made great contributions to the science and technology field.
TAPE: CUT 8, JEMISON :56
"Science and technology; how we understand the world, and the tools we create, has always been a part of every society. And what we have to do now is make sure that people are not fooled into thinking, 'oh, it's just the purview of someone else.' The most amazing thing to me about technological advancement and design is that African- Americans have continued to be right in the middle and the heart of the center of U-S technological development since we came over. Even as slaves, we're part of it. The real McCoy was built by Elijiah McCoy for a certain type of mechanism on hydrogen. It's very amazing we've been here the whole time and we will continue to be there. We're there right now. Silicon graphics? People always talk about silicon graphics and the amazing morphing technology and things that come in the movie. It was invented by a black graduate student Mark Hanna at Stanford University. I can go on and on. That's the reality. We've been there and we will continue to be there."
MUSIC: SOMBRE MUSIC SNEAK, ESTAB, HOLD UNDER:
NL: The most recent mission the mission of the Shuttle Columbia was dedicated to science and research experiments. However, as we all know, it ended in tragedy. President Bush spoke of the loss.
TAPE: CUT 9, BUSH :17
"The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth; yet we can pray that all are safely home."
NL: Payload Commander Michael Anderson was in charge of the science experiments on the shuttle. In what was the astronaut's last national interview, Anderson spoke about the expanding horizons for African - Americans in space.
TAPE: CUT 10, ANDERSON :33
"I see the future as being pretty bright. Bob (Robert) Curbeam will be flying in just a few months. Then of course later in the year we will have Joan Higginbotham will be flying and early next year, you will see Stephanie Wilson flying. So it looks like the future is really bright."
NL: Commander Anderson spoke of one experiment in particular that he believed would someday help African-American communities.
TAPE: CUT 11, ANDERSON :16
"We also have some research that I think will be really beneficial to the African- American community on board this flight. We have a bio-reactor, which is growing prostate cancer cells. As you know, prostate cancer is a high rate of occurrence in African-American males so some of the research we are doing up here we can really help out in those areas."
SNEAK: MUSIC UP, UNDER AND OUT:
NL: At the nationally-televised memorial service at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, earlier this month, Chief of the Astronaut Corps Captain Kent V. Rominger, remembered Michael Anderson.not Michael Anderson the payload commander, but Michael Anderson, the man.
SOUND: CUT 12, ROMINGER, :20
"Mike, he was a perfect choice for the payload commander. Organized, thorough, someone you could absolutely count on, a gifted leader. He was the quiet type unless you asked him about his family or his Porsche. And perhaps because he was quiet, we all loved to see him laugh. And when he laughed, we laughed with him all the harder, and he knew just when to drop a great punch line."
MUSIC: SNEAK UP SOLEMN MUSIC, ESTAB AND HOLD UNDER:
NL: Sadly, we will never know the results of the experiments Commander Michael Anderson and his crew members conducted aboard the space shuttle Columbia. But as we celebrate Black History, we celebrate Michael Anderson and the contributions made by him and all the African-American astronauts to the U.S. Space program. Both their journey and the journey of America into the heavens.will go on.
This edition of Dateline was written by Marsha James. We close with Patti Labelle at the memorial service for the astronauts at Washington's National Cathedral, singing a tribute to their memory, Way Up There. I'm Neal Lavon in Washington.
MUSIC: WAY UP THERE, PATTI LABELLE, 4:53.
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