Charles Bolden is currently the 4th longest tenured NASA Administrator. Although NASA has had some amazing accomplishments under his leadership, he’ll go down in history as
Hello. This is Charlie Bolden, NASA Administrator, speaking to you via the broadcast capabilities of the Curiosity Rover, which is now on the surface of Mars.
Given the broad daily benefits provided by space exploration – communications, medicine, weather, entertainment, retail – the list goes on, having a person of African descent leading NASA is obviously important. However, getting to Mars will bring benefits of another magnitude – like having a backup in case of a large asteroid, runaway disease, natural disaster or some combination of the above. Perhaps more significantly, Charles Bolden speaking from Mars, exposes and shatters the fallacy of the perception that people of African descent aren’t able to succeed in STEM fields.
Over 60 years earlier, in a very bold social commentary for its time, the acclaimed sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury wrote a story about black folks leaving Earth for Mars to escape racial discrimination. One of the key characters, reflecting a mindset quite common in that era
- assumes they got the rockets from somewhere/someone else
- upon finding out they built them on their own, condemns them for “sneaking” and “plotting”
- decides he’ll stop them with a gun
- gets mad when they cleverly keep him from even following them
- accuses them of thinking they’s smart
The juxtaposition of the first and last points speak to a larger issue that is still relevant today. On the one hand, black folk aren’t smart enough to create technology, on the other hand when we do we not only don’t deserve to be recognized, we are criticized for having some kind of character flaw. There are limits to what we can do about what even nobel prize winners like William Shockley or James Watson have said, but every day while using our cell phone or gps, we can celebrate how smart Africans are benefiting our lives.
Accomplishments Under Charles Bolden in 2013