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PHOTO ESSAY

African Americans in the Space Program

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Leland Melvin with students

Astronaut Leland Melvin spoke to students in Washington, D.C., sharing a commitment to education much like the young African-Americans who integrated NASA in the 1960s. Photo, by Carla Cioffi, courtesy of NASA.

Despite significant obstacles, African Americans have played an important role in the American space program. So far, fourteen have gone into space, while hundreds of others have served in research and leadership roles, making contributions necessary for space travel to become a reality. From the earliest years of American space research, during the time of segregation and legal, open discrimination, to the 21st century, African Americans have transcended political and social barriers and have been part of all aspects of these programs, from the tragic to the magnificent. Nonetheless, legal and institutional barriers slowed their progress, and it took decades for their contributions to be fully acknowledged. The fact that African Americans were so long a part of space research, but not represented in space flight missions, did not go fully unnoticed, however. President John F. Kennedy pushed the nation's space program and military to rectify the problem. After Kennedy's assassination, however, the political pressure disappeared, and progress slowed, but did not stop.

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