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MLK and Open Source: 2 Degrees of Separation

Monday, January 16, 2012 is Martin Luther King Day, and in honor of that occasion I present to you a story of King's two degrees of separation from open source, specifically NASA's new open source code site.

On Tuesday evening, my teen daughter and I had some quality bonding time over milkshakes and the first season of Star Trek, which was timely considering the conversation I'd have the next day with a couple of NASA employees.

In my Wednesday phone interview for an article I was writing about the new NASA open source outreach efforts, I asked William Eshagh, a technologist working on Open Government and the Nebula Cloud Computing Platform out of the NASA Ames Research Center, about the efforts NASA makes to help increase diversity in the STEM fields.

Sean Herron, a technology strategist at NASA, was also on the call and told me about the women.nasa.gov site, which offers a wonderful collection of inspirational stories from women at NASA, information about careers and internships, and a link to the Aspire 2 Inspire page. On that page, you'll find cool films featuring women who work at NASA in areas of science, technology, engineering, and math.

Eshagh also told me about the advocacy and recruitment roles Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura on Star Trek, has at NASA. Nichols told Eshagh a story, which he recounted for me on our call, about meeting Martin Luther King, Jr., who convinced her not to quit Star Trek after its first season.

King told Nichols that she had "one of the most wonderful roles" and that images were important. According to Nichols, King said, "Don't you understand, you have the first non-stereotypical role in television. What we see is what we're supposed to be. For the first time, the world sees us as we are supposed to be seen — as qualified, beautiful, intelligent, people, and you're not a menial."

You can watch Nichols telling the story of her meeting with King in this Pioneer Women of Television interview, which was recorded one year ago, on January 16, 2011.

More than 40 years after Nichols first met King, both continue to be inspirations. Happy Martin Luther King Day!

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