African American scientist Professor Hildreth “Hal” Walker played a role in the Apollo moon landing almost 50 years ago.
Walker led the manufacturing, testing and operation of the KORAD K-1500 ruby laser system in 1969 during the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Now he and his wife are breaking the barriers for other young people of colour to take up space in fields of science and technology.
Prof Hal Walker and Dr. Bettye D.Walker are the founders of a US-based education and mentoring agency, A-MAN, that encourages youth to get involved in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
A-MAN has been operating for 25 years and every year the couple visits South African to promote STEM in honour of former president Nelson Mandela who was passionate about education.
A-MAN is associated with various SA schools and has helped set up computer literacy labs, technology learning sessions and motivational talks.
Prof Hal Walker explains that he worked on the initial measurements of the true distance between the earth and the moon using radar.
He was the man to successfully fire the laser to the moon during Apollo 11.
The pair discusses how they’ve encouraged African Americans and black South Africans into the science space, when they first met Madiba in 1997 and how he inspired them.
We were involved in the building of lasers… we were developers and producers of very sophisticated laser equipment in those early days. — Professor Hildreth “Hal” Walker
It was pretty lonely experience for myself in laser technology [as an African American involved in science]. — Professor Hildreth “Hal” Walker
We are here because Nelson Mandela invited us to come and work with the children here and promote science and technology. — Dr. Bettye D.Walker
We’ve graduated over 10 000 students from the universities and colleges throughout the US, and some even here in South Africa. — Dr. Bettye D.Walker
Listen to their inspiring story on The John Maytham Show:
Dr. Bettye Walker is also a pioneer of STEM education and outreach. Having served as a university professor and school principal, she launched a UCLA-funded pilot project in the 1980s for STEM outreach for at-risk and under-served populations. In 1997, she hosted STEM learning expeditions to South Africa, and she and Hal were personally invited by President Nelson Mandela to bring the Walkers’ African-American Male Achievers Network (A-MAN) and Young Ladies Achievers Club (Y-LAC) STEM programs and other initiatives to South Africa. The CTSS (Cape Town Space Society) is a culmination to Madiba’s request.