Single mum’s Nasa internship funded by strangers

india jacksonImage copyright India Jackson

When India Jackson was offered a truly out-of-this-world internship at space agency Nasa she was delighted.

There was just one problem: India would have to fund her and her daughter’s travel and living expenses for the opportunity to work at Nasa’s Johnson Space Center in Houston for 10 weeks.

The 32-year-old physics PHD student at Atlanta’s Georgia State University was worried she would not be able to afford it. The cost of flights, accommodation, and car rental alone would run into thousands.

“I was ecstatic to be given the opportunity, but I knew it was going to be very expensive.

“It wasn’t just the cost of living in Houston, I had to take my daughter into consideration. I also have a house here in Atlanta I would have to continue paying rent on,” India told the BBC.

That is when India’s cousin Dasha Fuller came up with the idea of a GoFundMe page.

“This is a lifelong dream of hers, and a long time coming, and I am very proud of her. Unfortunately, she is unable to attend. India is a single mother and a struggling graduate student, so money is tight,” Dasha originally posted on the page.

“You must have money in order to get ahead in this country. She worked hard for this opportunity and I don’t want to see all of her lifelong work gone to waste due to financial hardship.”

Image copyright India Jackson
Image caption India and her daughter Jewel

Posted last week, the heartfelt plea caught the attention of generous donors, and within 24 hours the GoFundMe page had reached more than its $8,000 (£6,250) target.

“It was overwhelming, no words can describe it,” India said.

“Someone donated $1,000, and another just $1, but it doesn’t matter how much.

“People believed in me, they had my best interests at heart.”

India’s passion for astronomy began in the ninth grade after she entered a science programme and visited the Fernbank Science Center in Atlanta.

But it was mathematics in which she was gifted. After completing her bachelor’s degree in the subject she began teaching it at schools and colleges.

When the time came for India to do her PHD, the Doctor Who fan said she chose physics and astronomy, subjects she was passionate about learning further.

Now she hopes her internship will lead to a fellowship at Nasa so she can continue the legacy of African-American women working at the agency, which goes back to the 1940s.

After the US joined World War Two in 1942, job opportunities for married women were limited, especially for those with children, and even more so for African-American women.

Image copyright NASA
Image caption Mary Jackson became Nasa’s first black female engineer in 1958

As men went to fight there was a shortage of skills in vital industries.

President Franklin D Roosevelt signed an executive order allowing black people to be employed in the defence sector for the first time, and Nasa’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (Naca), started looking for black women to work on mathematical calculations.

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The Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures tells the stories of Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan, three African-American women who made significant contributions to space flight in the 1960s.

On its website, Nasa said that it “embraces their legacy and strives to include everyone who wants to participate in its ongoing exploration”.

Image copyright NASA
Image caption Katherine Johnson calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American in space

India and her daughter Jewel will fly to Houston on 30 May. While Jewel attends a summer programme in the city, India will study solar flares and radiation to protect astronauts on Nasa’s International Space Station.

Her cousin has closed the GoFundMe page, but some people still wish to contribute.

“I came here to donate, but it looks like she’s all covered. What an awesome example you are setting for your daughter. You go girl!” read one comment on the page.

Another post read: “Would love to donate to such a worthy woman. Would you consider opening it up again for incidental costs that she might incur?”

Despite the generosity of strangers, India said she wont accept any more donations.

“I’m very grateful but I don’t need any more,” said India. “You don’t do science to make money, You do science to make history.”

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