America’s multifaceted truth: NASA, SpaceX, and Black Lives Matter
Updated: Apr 21, 2022
“What university do you go to?” A white friend asked me. I replied “UCL.” They looked shocked and asked me “What do you study.” “Geophysics.” Silence. They then replied, “Wow, I just would have never guessed that you were that smart.”
Me being in this industry comes as a shock to those in power and also normal civilians, but why? Is it because I am bubbly and clumsy, is it because I show interest in other subjects? Or, is it because I am a Black woman?
At age 5, my cousin who was studying engineering, at the time, came to visit us in the UK from the United States. He wanted to work for NASA and one night he showed me the vast astrological features in our night sky. One star was flashing, and I asked him what it was. He told me it was the International Space Station (ISS) and told me how scientists lived and worked up there. He later did a talk at my school about space and the STEM field. From then on, I decided I wanted to work within the space industry. Luckily, I was surrounded by Black family members who never doubted my ability and always encouraged me. I was raised on my mother’s Trinidadian grandfather’s catchphrase that “there is no such word as can’t”.
Nevertheless, I have had numerous tests over the years, academically and emotionally. I failed two math exams in my first year, whilst still passing the “hardest” math exam. I did not have the same educational background as everyone else in the course, and even with my efforts, it was hard to catch up with the math. This led me to have to change from Geophysics to Earth Sciences. From then on, it felt like I was always fighting to prove myself to my university and my peers, even after getting a job at FDL NASA/Europe in my second year. In my third year I bumped into a professor, whose first sentence was “You’re not still going for that physics dream, are you?” I just sometimes wonder, if I had been white and male, would my competence have been questioned so much? Would physics be considered a goal and not a dream?
The European Space Agency (ESA) send mostly men to space, and none of those astronauts have ever been black. I cannot apply to be an astronaut for NASA as I am not an American citizen. As a Black European, most of us have a long history with Europe. Our families have either migrated a long time ago or come from colonised places. Some of us are even part European ourselves. However, we are still different, we are still considered to be “other” and we are still not a significant percentage of the people found in high up places. In my industry I am underrepresented. Surprisingly in the European space industry, I am less represented than in the United States. How can we fix this?
In the autumn term of my third year, I wrote an article named “Black Women in Space” for one of my modules. The research I did for this article really opened up my eyes to the discrimination faced by Black women in the STEM field. This year, 2020, I decided to work more with diversity. During American Black History Month, I did a talk to young Idaho students about my personal STEM experience and the Black people who have contributed greatly to the field. I worked with Naaut for a “Women in Space conference”, where I met the exec team of United Kingdom Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (UKSEDS). I now volunteer as part of UKSEDS diversity and podcast teams.
In May, I was fortunate enough to be accepted on the NASA Social for the Crew Dragon Launch. A few days later, I was also recommended by ESA to NASA to be a Subject Matter Expert for their SpaceApps COVID-19 Challenge. Naturally, I was exhilarated.
Space X crewed mission leaving launch complex 49A at NASAs Kennedy Space Centre.
The NASA SOCIAL, due to COVID-19, ran on a private Facebook group as supposed to in-person like usual. I was thrilled to see that there were many different types of people. Including my personal space mentor Anushka Sharma, founder of NAAUT and an ex-colleague of mine at FDL NASA/Europe, who has encouraged me to express my voice as a young Black woman in the space industry.
The following two weeks were to be filled with exciting announcements, then the few days leading to the launch were lined up with interviews with NASA astronauts and administration. This was a great distraction from the real-world problems of COVID-19 and unemployment that were being felt globally.
The days before the launch was filled with great tours and also Q&A’s. All I was required to do was tweet about everything, and whilst tweeting the man who created the flashing light on the ISS followed me.
During one of the Q&A’s with Black NASA employees Leland Melvin, Charlie Bolden, Josh Dobbs, I built up the confidence to ask a question about diversity. A subject that for some reason, we have been conditioned to feel guilty to bring up.
My question during the Q&A with Leland Melvin, Charlie Bolden, Josh Dobbs
Luckily, the Q&A ended up discussing my question in detail. With all men encouraging everyone to follow their dreams. However, I felt like the subject had been filtered to be tolerable for the white members of the audience and therefore wasn’t necessarily helpful for minorities.
May 27th, launch day, everyone worldwide was excited. Getting to watch Bob and Doug go through the routine of getting into the tesla to the space rocket was excellent. It was amazing seeing the twitter community watching the same screen as I was. My family were watching in different countries, and my little siblings were going to see history. This day felt monumental. However, unfortunately, due to weather, the launch was scrubbed at last minute and rearranged for March 30th.
The days that followed from then to now, quite frankly, have been a blur.
George Floyd, a victim of police brutality.
By May 28th, everyone had known about the case with George Floyd, a 46-year old Black community leader that was murdered by police officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota over a suspected counterfeit bill. This was not the first murder of a Black person by police officers since the beginning of quarantine. Derek Chauvin had left his knee in Floyd's neck for almost 9 minutes, as 3 colleagues watched, Floyd died from asphyxiation, he was later dragged onto a stretcher and left for dead. This was all displayed in a lengthy 20-minute video.
Derek Chauvin, George Floyd's murderer.
Every pointless murder is felt within the Black community, this death was not unlike the others. Unfortunately, we have been conditioned to continue with our day to day lives, because the system has not changed yet. It came out, that this was not the first murder of a minority that Chauvin had committed. He has had 18 prior complaints. One involving the murder of Wayne Reyes in 2006. He had been given a slap on the hand and continued working for the force.