Watson was responsible for helping design the heat shield for the Saturn V Rocket mission. The shield was designed to keep heat from destroying the valuable NASA equipment when it reentered Earth’s atmosphere.
Racism was the order of the day in Alabama and points south, and while the NASA workplace was desegregated, the world outside of Marshall wasn’t. Watson shared in an interview that he witnessed and endured several racist acts during his career climb. However, he and his colleagues earned the respect of their peers at the agency and it led to several other Black hires in the years to come.
Watson and 9 other African-American NASA pioneers are the subject of the book, We Could Not Fail, by Richard Paul and Steven Moss.
(Photo: University of Texas)