We Got A Badass Over Here: Doctor Neil deGrasse Tyson, Science and Social Responsibility (via Geekquality)

Happy birthday, Doctor Neil deGrasse Tyson! Here’s a fantastic piece all about the internet’s very favorite (bada)as(s)trophysicist, written by Rick G. and cross-posted from Geekquality. ~M

Astrophysicist Doctor Neil deGrasse Tyson.

In the latter half of 1958, two events occurred that would have a profound effect on the science of astrophysics: one was the signing of the National Aeronautics and Space Act by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, which authorized the creation of NASA as a civilian space agency; the other, much more humble of the two, was the birth in the West Bronx of Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Born to Cyril deGrasse Tyson and Sunchita Feliciano Tyson, Neil grew up in the Skyview Apartments, a prophetically-named complex located in the relatively well-to-do neighborhood of Riverdale. His father, himself a son of immigrants from the Caribbean, was a sociologist and activist; his mother was a housewife who would later earn a Master’s degree in gerontology. That the Tyson family lived in a middle-class enclave was rather remarkable for the late 1950?s, especially since there had been protests from residents at the time to keep Black families from moving in. Though the family was fairly well off for the time, Neil was acutely aware of how fortunate he was, and how difficult things were for many other people of color in America. During Neil’s childhood, his father’s career centered on collaborating with city officials to create employment opportunities in the inner city for urban youth.

“Year after year, the forces operating against this effort were huge: poor schools, bad teachers, meager resources, abject racism, and assassinated leaders… I was watching America do all it could to marginalize who I was and what I wanted to become in life.” (1)

In a piece written for NASA’s 50th Anniversary, he describes his fascination and excitement about the space program in the 1960’s, an excitement tempered by the knowledge that he could never be an astronaut:

“[T]he vicarious thrill of the journey, so prevalent in the hearts and minds of others, was absent from my emotions. I was obviously too young to be an astronaut. But I also knew that my skin color was much too dark for you to picture me as part of this epic adventure.”

NASA personnel at Mission Control during the Apollo 11 launch.

As a matter of fact, NASA was only integrated by a direct Presidential order from Lyndon Johnson to Wernher von Braun, rocketry pioneer and first director of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. And, while President Johnson’s mandate instructed NASA to work with Alabama A&M and Tuskeegee University to locate qualified candidates to work with the space program, the idea of a Black astrophysicist was essentially unheard of.

Young Neil deGrasse Tyson.

It’s a good thing that no one bothered to tell young Neil, who wouldn’t be stopped from exploring the Universe even if all the astronauts were White.