Outer-Space Career Inclusivity: Who Helps in Science?
Updated: Jan 6, 2020
This past July marked the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969. Previously, when reflecting on the time period at NASA, I thought of white, male engineers with thin black ties and pocket protectors scribbling our calculations using slide rulers. This uniformity went unquestioned for a long time in my life, until in high school. It began with learning about Margaret Hamilton developing the flight software used for the Apollo space program. In college, I read Hidden Figures, which highlights four African American women mathematicians at NASA Langley: Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Christine Darden. Even as recently as this year, I've learned we have a handful of LGBTQ+ astronauts.
Often, diversity in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) often highlight what can be described in a photograph. Increasing the demographic and psychographic diversity of STEM fields is critical, and others with more experience have spoken out on the subject. To me, diversity also includes in profession. I've touched on this before at Let's Get Science-y, looking at where science goes beyond the laboratory. Writers, educators, legislators, artists, and citizens are all required to help science progress.
It's always been this way, really. Looking at Bruno Latour's Science in Action, we glimpse at how our world really operates. So often we hear stories told after the climax, after the facts are in the history book. For example, Neil Armstrong was the first man on the moon in July 1969, iterating his famous words "That's one step for man, one giant leap for mankind." What isn't shared as much is how we got there—I mean, really how we got there.
More than Engineers Helped With the Space Program
On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy addresses United States Congress about urgent national needs, after Alan Shepard was the first American in space in January of the same year. Here, Kennedy shares the need for America to have a "clearly leading role in space achievement," ultimately leading to the first announcement of going to the Moon before the decade is out.
From there, the science takes over, right? Note quite. The American people are enamored with the idea of men leaving our terrestrial planet in pursuit of a different terrain. Individuals across the nation wanted to learn more about the program: wanted to learn how astronauts train and if they have a sense of humor, whether we were using the NOVA rocket to reach the lunar surface or the Saturn V, the finer details of what goes inside a command module—heck, what is a command module. While all of us born after 1980 can take this for granted, but every American had to be taught how to get to the moon while the engineers were learning how to get to the moon.
The publicists, advertisers, and journalists step into the scene to fill in the scientific gap between the public and NASA. Astronauts toured around the nation, the pathway to the Moon makes the front page, and private companies showcase their technology in consumer media. All of these efforts take place for the convincing of the American public of the necessity and importance of the American Space Program.
Since there were no persons in space yet, artists were hired to provide images and animation to help with comprehension of technical information in a digestible package. Photographers and videographers recorded astronauts training, engineers working, hardware tests, etc. All before the Apollo program began.
Of course, I've highlighted humanities because that's my personal background and education, but there is a laundry list of people who supported the Apollo program in the 1960s. School educators teaching in public classrooms. Financial departments calculating costs and return on investment for the technology. Seamstresses meticulously sewing together spacesuits. Cafeteria workers at the Space Centers providing meals. Science fiction writers further disseminating new science ideas. Even the Walt Disney Company contributed. Truly, every discipline can be connected to the space industry in some way.
President Kennedy understood this from the beginning. "It will not be one man going to the moon... it will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there," he said in the May 1961 Congress session. It takes a variety of people to succeed.
Well that was then, what about now?
While some used to consider NASA and the space industry as a relic from the past, recent events renewed interest in the American public. SpaceX launched a Tesla Cherry Roadster towards Mars. The president has announced a mandate to return to the Moon with a sustainable presence by 2024, jump starting the Artemis program.
And with all of this, remains the same jobs as past. The American public will need to be educated in the scientific endeavors as they happen. Businesses will need help reaching out to the right backers to fund their CubeSat experiments. Legislators and lobbyists will have help navigate political turmoil that we call Washington, D.C. Astronauts are a slim portion of our population, and a slim portion of the industry when all is said and done.
As Latour outlines in his book, none of these activities look like "science." They aren't in a lab, they don't involve mice or special training, and often a calculator isn't even required. But they are science. Each educator, each legislator, each artist, each journalist, all contribute to science via progressing scientific messaging to audiences, allowing less barriers and more understanding. This scientific literacy helps the world as a whole more science forward. The entire space industry will never progress with engineers and scientists alone.
It's not just space, though. Every STEM discipline needs a variety of professions in order to succeed. Where we stand today is everyone can be apart of the science industry, just like we've always stood. Showcase your talent, and see how far across the universe it will take you.
Special Courtesy to the Chasing the Moon Twitter for images they've collected that contributed to this piece.