Astronomy

African Americans in Astronomy and Space



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The first African American space hero to become prominent was Benjamin Banneker. Born in 1731, Banneker's ancestry was that of slavery. He, himself was born a free man but would have come up against much prejudice from the outside world, who had never come across an African American who was to turn out to be so academically proficient, and an inspiration to others who followed in his remarkable footsteps.

In 1791 Banneker sent Thomas Jefferson, who was by then Secretary of State, a copy of his own almanac, compiled in 1731. The 'Sable Astronomer', as Banneker was known, became a very important figure in the history of astronomy and also helped to put African Americans securely on the scientific map of excellence.

It was to take some years before another African American took up the challenge to follow him however. In 1923 Harvey Banks was born. Banks, later to be referred to as Doctor Harvey Washington Banks, became the first African American to receive a Ph.D in astronomy back in 1961.

While Banks was still studying Dr Arthur Bertram Cuthbert Walker the second was born in 1936. Walker studied science and how the universe worked, and was to eventually join the U.S Air Force in 1962. In 1965 he moved on up and joined The Space Physics Laboratory of Aerospace Corporation, just before Banks was appointed professor of astronomy and mathematics at Delaware State, and was made a director of the college's observatory.

In 1959 a tragic event happened to another African American hero. Ronald Mc Nair died in the Space Shuttle Challenger, which exploded after launching from Kennedy Space Center.

In 1967 Robert Henry Lawrence Jr was named the very first African American astronaut. Unfortunately he didn't actually manage to get into space as he sadly died when his jet star fighter crashed at Edwards Air Force base in California.

In 1971 Banks was appointed as associate professor of physics. He died in 1979, which was the year when Guion Guy Bluford became the first African American astronaut to make it into space in 1983.

A couple of years later, in 1985, Colonel Frederick D Gregory became the first African American to pilot a space craft. Meanwhile Dr Mace Jemison was on her way to becoming the fifth black astronaut, and would become the first African American woman in space in 1992.

Before that would happen though, Dr Tyson began having his astronomy books published and gained world wide acclaim. In 1996 he went on to become the youngest ever African American to be a director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, and was later to have an asteroid named after him.

Two years later Dr Beth Brown became the first African American woman to obtain a doctorate in astronomy at the University of Michigan. Since then Michael Anderson sadly died in the Space Shuttle Columbia. That was in the year 2003, but African Americans continue to forge ahead an reach for the stars.

Sources; http://www.space.about.com

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