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Texas Matters: The Space Race, African Americans and NASA


The film “Hidden Figures” tells the true story of Katherine G. Johnson , an African American mathematician who helped calculate the trajectories for Project Mercury and the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon. But Johnson was not alone. There were other African Americans at NASA and each had their own heroic mission against racism and Jim Crow.

The struggle for civil rights and the struggle to put a man on the moon were actually intertwined. May 1961 was the month that Alan Shepard became the first American in space. It was also when the Freedom Riders began their mission into the deep South to challenge Jim Crow laws.

The parallel stories are told in the book “We Could Not Fail: The First African Americans in the Space Program.” It’s written by Richard Paul and Steven Moss. Steven Moss is an English professor at Texas State Technical College in Waco, and is featured in the audio interview above. Moss's co-author, Richard Paul, is an award-winning public radio producer whose work has been featured on NPR's Morning Edition and WNYC's Studio 360.

David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi