“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…

From Wikipedia:

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.[1] 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”.[2]

Johnson’s work included calculating trajectories, launch windows, and emergency return paths for Project Mercury spaceflights, including those for astronauts Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and John Glenn, the first American in orbit, and rendezvous paths for the Apollo Lunar Module and command module on flights to the Moon. Her calculations were also essential to the beginning of the Space Shuttle program, and she worked on plans for a mission to Mars.

In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2016, she was presented the Silver Snoopy Award by NASA astronaut Leland D. Melvin and a NASA Group Achievement Award. She was portrayed by Taraji P. Henson as a lead character in the 2016 film Hidden Figures. In 2019, Johnson was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

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Mary Jackson (née Winston,[1] April 9, 1921 – February 11, 2005) was an American mathematician and aerospace engineer at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which in 1958 was succeeded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). She worked at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, for most of her career. She started as a computer at the segregated West Area Computing division in 1951. She took advanced engineering classes and, in 1958, became NASA’s first African-American female engineer.

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.

Jackson’s story features in the 2016 non-fiction book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race. She is one of the three protagonists in Hidden Figures, the film adaptation released the same year.

In 2019, Jackson posthumously was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.[2]

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Dorothy Johnson Vaughan (September 20, 1910 – November 10, 2008) was an American mathematician and human computer who worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), and NASA, at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. In 1949, she became acting supervisor of the West Area Computers, the first African-American woman to supervise a group of staff at the center.

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.

Vaughan is one of the women featured in Margot Lee Shetterly‘s history Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race (2016). It was adapted as a biographical film of the same name, also released in 2016.

In 2019, Vaughan was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal posthumously.[1]

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