July 21, 2019

On the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11's landing on the moon, Derrick Pitts, of the Franklin Institute, joined Joy Reid to talk about that historic endeavor, and the stories of those — other than the astronauts who flew on the spacecraft — who helped make it happen. Of course, the mathematician Katherine Johnson was one of the focuses of the book and movie, "Hidden Figures," as a Black woman in the 1960s who was instrumental to the mission's success.

REID: When I went and saw "Hidden Figures," I was embarrassed that I didn't know that story. But it was also a reminder that there were so many things that were revolutionary about the U.S. race to get to space because we're trying to beat out the Soviet Union, etc., but also just in terms of what women, Black women, were able to achieve in this country at that time, in, like, the '60s and '70s, it was pretty incredible.

PITTS: There are hundreds of untold stories of African-Americans who worked in associated industries in the space program directly and associated industries in aerospace, particularly in NASA's aerospace program, and we don't hear those stories. The hidden figure stories begin to open a door to us for understanding, but there were so many people who worked as fabricators or worked as engineers in various different regards. My father, actually, worked associated with the space program as a radar technician for the United States Navy. So I know there is a personal story right there.

Reid then asked him about the potential for people in the United States to galvanize and unite behind such a goal again. Was such a thing possible? Could it even be around an issue that existed here on Earth, rather than in space? That was a natural segue for Pitts to delve into the topic of climate change.

PITTS: I think we have a very serious issue before us. The idea that we will no longer pay attention to a voice of authority, that we can't agree on voices of authority, in this case, science, this is a body of knowledge and a group of people that report on what nature is presenting us. Not presenting judgment, but just showing us what nature is telling us at the moment. We need to sort of bond ourselves together behind that mission, because it truly is a threat to the quality of life for everyone on the planet. And we can see for sure only because nature tells us there is a trend happening that we need to not only pay attention to but do something about. That's one we really need to rally behind, because, in fact, Joy, we're not going to leave this planet and go to another planet where we can flourish there. That's not going to happen, so we need to pay attention and take the best care of this planet as we can.

As the east coast broils, and hurricanes happen earlier each year, storms become increasingly destructive and ice caps melt, climate change does seem a natural (pun intended) impending problem behind which the U.S. should throw its energy and unity, and with the same measure of urgency and drive it did the Space Race.

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