Black History Month: Celebrating African American Earth and Space Scientists
January 3, 2022
African-American Pioneers in Earth and Space Science
Exploration Place — in collaboration with The Kansas African American Museum and the National Informal STEM Education Network — is celebrating Black History Month by honoring the contributions of a different Earth and space scientist each week with an outdoor display.
Each week we will be projecting an image of an African American pioneer in Earth and Space Science onto the side of our iconic island building, highlighting their contribution to the STEM community. We encourage you to visit the display and use it as a learning opportunity for your family to discuss the impact that each scientist had in their field.
Make it an evening and stay to watch the nightly 7 pm Ring of Fire lighting at the Keeper of the Plains and view the twelve riverfront banners featuring a selection of women in STEM.
Katherine Johnson (1918-2020)
For much of her life, Katherine Johnson’s contributions were not widely acknowledged. Her calculations of orbital mechanics were crucial to the success of NASA’s crewed spaceflights. Johnson worked on Project Mercury and Apollo missions as a “human computer.” In 2015, Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and she was portrayed as a lead character in the Hidden Figures book and film. Johnson studied mathematics and French at West Virginia State College and began her career as a teacher. In 1962, astronaut John Glenn famously asked engineers to have Johnson run the numbers by hand for the equations that were programmed into mission computers. “If she says they’re good,” Katherine Johnson remembers the astronaut saying, “then I’m ready to go.”
Warren Washington (b. 1936)
Warren Washington studied physics at Oregon State University and then earned a master’s degree there in meteorology. He received his doctorate in meteorology from Pennsylvania and then joined the National Center for Atmospheric Research. Washington is an internationally recognized expert in climate research and modeling. He served as chair of the National Science Board from 2002 to 2006.
Mae Jemison (b. 1956)
Astronaut, Physician, Engineer
Mae Jemison became the first Black woman to travel in space aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992. Jemison studied chemical engineering at Stanford University and then earned a medical degree at Cornell University. She served in the Peace Corps in Liberia and Sierra Leone before joining the NASA corps of astronauts. Since leaving NASA, Jemison formed a nonprofit educational foundation and has written several books for children. She has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame and the International Space Hall of Fame.
John Brooks Slaughter (b. 1935)
Engineer, National Science Foundation Director
This Topeka native studied electrical engineering at Kansas State University and then earned a master’s from the University of California, Los Angeles and a doctorate at the University of California, San Diego. He eventually joined the National Science Foundation as assistant director for astronomics, atmospherics, Earth and ocean sciences. From 1980 to 1982, Slaughter served as director of the National Science Foundation and later the president of Occidental College. Today, he is a professor at the University of Southern California.