Space Race Contributions Of NACA And NASA

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The issues of racial discrimination and segregation were prevalent in the United States during the twentieth century. Jim Crow laws dominated the South, and African Americans were often denied opportunities that were freely available to whites. While there were unresolved domestic issues, the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union was prioritized by the United States government. Although commonly denied important, well-paying jobs, several African Americans working for NACA and NASA ended up holding major positions in and making substantial contributions to their space programs. NACA and NASA were socially progressive institutions for their time because they valued intellectual capability over societal limitations on minorities. …show more content…

American society viewed African Americans as incapable of holding positions of power in many areas, ranging from governmental office to simple managerial positions. However, NASA went against this belief and gave important positions to both African Americans and women alike. For instance, Dorothy Vaughn, an African American female, rose through the ranks of Langley and eventually became manager of the West Area Computing group (Shetterly 92). As NASA was moving forward in the Space Race, they were also beginning to gradually progress towards social equality by allowing opportunities for marginalized groups to take on more important …show more content…

Katherine Johnson arguably made some of the most influential contributions to NASA during the Space Race. Margot Lee Shetterly, in her book Hidden Figures, describes Katherine Johnson as a "black woman in a still-segregated country helping to light the fuse that would propel that country to achieve one of its greatest ambitions" (219). A vast amount of trust was placed in Katherine Johnson when she was asked to confirm the IBM computer's results, ensuring that John Glenn would have a safe and successful orbit of the Earth. Katherine Johnson's large impact on NASA's progress and eventual success in the space race demonstrates NASA's socially progressive approach. Otherwise, members of minority groups would only hold minor positions in the organization, thus minimizing the importance of their work.
Despite the extreme opposition to integration and equality that occurred in NASA's home of Virginia, NASA did comply with the segregationist ideology surrounding them. Instead, they held their own approach to desegregation: "benign neglect" (Shetterly 169). Segregation was present at NASA's lunchrooms and bathrooms, yet was not enforced. This allowed for the commonly present policy of segregation to slowly dwindle at NASA, as the West Area Computing group

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