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“Hidden Figures” is the story about lives of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, three brilliant African-American mathematicians who worked as “human computers” at NASA.
Before the advent of computers NASA relied heavily on “human computers”- people – who used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to manually calculate the complicated numbers that were necessary launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.
Today, super-computers can do these calculations in a fraction of a second, but in the 1950s and 60s it would take teams of people weeks to work out the calculations.
More often, than not, they also had to figure out, the equations and expressions required to arrive at solutions to the complex problems, that needed to be answered for space flight.
The book chronicles the lives of these women and how they went on to become major achievers in mathematics, science and engineering history. “Hidden Figures” also explains how these historical women overcame racial segregation and discrimination.
Hidden Figures was made into a top-grossing film by 20th Century Fox.
Hope you are inspired to read the book or watch the movie. Here is a movie review…
Katherine Johnson (born Creola Katherine Coleman; August 26, 1918 – February 24, 2020), also known as Katherine Goble, was an American mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed spaceflights. During her 35-year career at NASA and its predecessor, she earned a reputation for mastering complex manual calculations and helped pioneer the use of computers to perform the tasks. The space agency noted her “historical role as one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist”.
After 34 years at NASA, Jackson had earned the most senior engineering title available. She realized she could not earn further promotions without becoming a supervisor. She accepted a demotion to become a manager of both the Federal Women’s Program, in the NASA Office of Equal Opportunity Programs, and of the Affirmative Action Program. In this role, she worked to influence the hiring and promotion of women in NASA’s science, engineering, and mathematics careers.
She later was promoted officially to the position. During her 28-year career, Vaughan prepared for the introduction of machine computers in the early 1960s by teaching herself and her staff the programming language of Fortran. She later headed the programming section of the Analysis and Computation Division (ACD) at Langley.