The National Aeronautics and Space Agency (Nasa) has taken the initiative in a matter that the Trump administration has failed ~ to use a variant of ‘feared’ ~ to tread. It has unveiled a decision in the season of the racist upsurge against the establishment, so robust indeed that the movement has spilled over the frontiers and across the Atlantic to several countries in Europe.
The historical significance of Wednesday’s announcement must be that Nasa will rename its Washington DC headquarters after Mary Jackson, the frontline entity’s first black woman engineer and a pivotal player in helping US astronauts reach space.
It is a noble gesture in the season of ignoble strife, basically over the colour of one’s skin. It is a testament to the reality that Jackson is one of many incredible and talented professionals in Nasa’s history, verily one who has been a victim of the callous indifference towards blacks, as often as not mortal.
Nasa has pledged to continue to “honour those whose histories have long been overlooked”. The tragic facet to the recognition, therefore, must be that the United States of America boasts of many, many more such Marys, whose contribution in course of their respective careers has scarcely been acknowledged, least of all by the likes of Donald Trump.
Appropriately enough, the building is situated in Washington’s Hidden Figures Way, a thoroughfare that spells the distinction between achievement and recognition. In a sense, Nasa’s recognition, albeit ironically timed, is a celebration of Jackson’s legacy. Well and truly has she been described as a “scientist, humanitarian and trail blazer” who paved the way for thousands of others to succeed, and not merely in America.
Her contributions, along with the work of Nasa mathematicians, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan were highlighted in the 2016 film, Hidden Figures, inspired by a book by Margot Lee Shetterly. It is a measure of the segregation, that had once so bitterly plagued the country that Jackson had in 1951 started working in Nasa’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in the then segregated West Asia Computing Unit.
After a stint at Nasa’s 4 X 4 supersonic pressure tunnel, she became the agency’s first black female engineer. Truly phenomenal has been Jackson’s contribution to Nasa and to space science in the wider canvas. More the pity, therefore, that the acknowledgement has been announced at a critical moment in America’s racist narrative, often horrific ~ a month after George Floyd was done to death by a white police officer.
The country, the black and the white, is proud of Mary Jackson, though President Trump is entitled to his subjective reflection, unacceptable in most parts. Quite totally superb has been the timing of the morale booster for blacks. There is a measure of pregnant symbolism inherent in Nasa’s bouquet.