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10 history-makers in science

TheGrio's "100 History Makers in the Making" include 10 scientists, engineers and
environmentalists. Clockwise from top left are Charles Bolden, Tony Hansberry,
Derrick Pitts, Lisa Jackson, James McLurkin, Agnes Day, Shelton Johnson, Robert
Bullard, Beverly Wright and Jerome Ringo.

Black History Month is an occasion for looking back at the past achievements of African-Americans - including the discoveries made by George Washington Carver and Benjamin Banneker. But it's also an occasion for looking ahead to future achievements - and that's what TheGrio is doing this month with its list of "100 History Makers in the Making."

The list includes 10 scientists, engineers and environmentalists who are making an impact even now. The newsiest name has to be NASA Administrator Charles Bolden, the first African-American to be named head of the space agency. Bolden is presiding over what is arguably NASA's most dramatic transition in a quarter-century.

TheGrio cites the racial challenges that faced Bolden in his youth, when he was denied an appointment to the Naval Academy by lawmakers from his home state of South Carolina. He didn't just shrug his shoulders at the rejection, but instead appealed to President Lyndon Johnson. Bolden eventually won the appointment instead from a black congressman from Chicago.

Bolden went on to a 34-year military career in the Marines - including a 14-year stint as an astronaut. He flew on four shuttle missions, including the deployment flight for the Hubble Space Telescope in 1990 and the first joint U.S.-Russian shuttle mission in 1994. Bolden returned to NASA after retiring from the Marines as a major general.

No matter what you think of NASA or its future, there's no question that Bolden has brought a different tone to America's space effort. His predecessor, rocket scientist Mike Griffin, once acknowledged that "I don't do feelings." Bolden, in contrast, sometimes wears his emotions on his sleeve. That's been particularly true in the past few days, when he's had to speak out about the space program's past tragedies and the difficult times ahead.

"I am a big person for passion," the 63-year-old told reporters in Washington this week. "I am here because I am passionate about space and exploration. Otherwise I'd be sitting in Houston, Texas, or I'd be in San Diego with my three granddaughters. I am here because I am passionate about this. I cry about it some times - so what?"

If you think that's an inspirational story for Black History Month, check out these nine others from TheGrio:

  • Robert Bullard: Called "the father of environmental justice," Bullard has a leading role in drawing attention to the impact of climate policy on vulnerable communities.

  • Agnes Day: Howard University microbiologist focuses on pressing research topics ranging from drug resistance to breast cancer.
  • Tony Hansberry: 15-year-old high-school student invents post-surgical stitching method to help women recover from hysterectomies.
  • Lisa Jackson: The first African-American to lead the Environmental Protection Agency is dealing with pivotal climate issues.

  • Shelton Johnson: Award-winning Yosemite National Park ranger collaborated with filmmaker Ken Burns on a landmark documentary series about America's national parks.

  • James McLurkin: Rice University robotics engineer works on ways to get swarms of little machines working together.
  • Derrick Pitts: The chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute has a knack for explaining cosmic subjects. Watch him work on "Countdown" with MSNBC's Keith Olbermann.

  • Jerome Ringo: Former chairman of the National Wildlife Federation is a leading advocate for green jobs.

  • Beverly Wright: Environmental scholar founded Dillard University's Deep South Center for Environmental Justice and made her mark during post-Katrina recovery in New Orleans.

For further reflections on the scientific side of black history, check out these past postings:

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