Celebrating Black History Month

13 October 2020: During Black History Month, Inmarsat is celebrating some of the black men and women who have helped transform the social, political and economic landscape in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and beyond.

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As passionate advocates of STEM education, we hope to inspire the next generation of space pioneers by sharing their stories and recognising the valuable legacy they leave behind

Mae C Jemison became the first African American woman to go into space when she served as a National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) mission specialist aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992. Today she is principal of 100 Year Starship, a human space exploration mission supported by the U.S. government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

Science educator

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock MBE is a British space scientist and science educator. She is an Honorary Research Associate in University College London’s Department of Physics and Astronomy and is co-presenter of the long-running astronomy BBC TV programme The Sky at Night.

American inventor and acoustician Dr James West is known worldwide as the co-inventor of the foil electret microphone. This is a type of condenser microphone on which 90 percent of all microphones used today – such as in telephones, sound and music recording equipment, and hearing aids – are based. Following a 40-year career with Bell Laboratories, he is now a research professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and Mechanical Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University.

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Three African American mathematicians Mary W Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan, overcame the barriers of segregation and gender bias to become the first female black managers at NASA’s Langley Research Centre and were instrumental in propelling the first American, John Glenn, into orbit in 1962.

Trailblazing work

Their work was recently celebrated in the biographical book and film of the same name The Hidden Figures, which portrays their trailblazing work for NASA as ‘human computers’ performing mathematical equations and calculations of orbital trajectories by hand. All three were awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2019, Mary W Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan posthumously.

Dr Mark Richards is an atmospheric physicist and lecturer at Imperial College London. His research centres on the spectroscopic study of nitric acid vapour for atmospheric remote sensing retrievals and he is co-founder of Duvas Technologies, an Imperial spin-out company that specialises in real-time GPS accurate pollution mapping on the move. Dr Richards is an active member of Imperial As One, the University’s Race Equality Advisory Group and, through various outreach programmes, he aims to encourage more students from diverse backgrounds to pursue science and engineering careers.

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Major General Charles Frank Bolden Jr is a retired United States Marine Corps Major General and former astronaut who flew on four Space Shuttle Missions. In 2007 he was nominated by President Barack Obama and confirmed by the U.S. Senate as the 12th Administrator of NASA to become the first African American to hold the post. During his tenure until 2017, when he retired, Major General Bolden Jr led the missions and goals of the U.S. space programme, including the development of a Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft and oversaw the Space Shuttle missions. He was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in May 2006.

Voices heard

Alexandre Maria, Inmarsat Procurement Manager and chair of our Ethnic Diversity Empowerment Network (EDEN) said: “We are using Black History Month to shine a spotlight on the hidden figures who deserve to be celebrated for their contributions to the space industry, civil rights, the arts, and beyond. We’re excited to be hosting a number of events internally throughout October to help celebrate and discuss the topic of race and what it means to be an ally at Inmarsat.

“I am so delighted to be the new chair for EDEN here at Inmarsat where the culture, values and focus on Diversity & Inclusion is already strong and celebrated at all levels. As a network, we want to create a platform for employees from diverse ethnic backgrounds to have their voices heard, to support their professional and personal development, to raise awareness and address any challenges or biases that might be faced.”

All image credits: NASA