I’m flaming mad and incredibly sad at the same time.
The movie Hidden Figures reveals the story of African American women—all mathematical geniuses—and their hidden contribution to the NASA space program.
Back then, photographs of NASA workers usually showed a monotony of men in white shirts and black ties. The photographic documentation portrays a falsehood. African American women (as well as other women) made significant contributions to this country’s space program while living in the segregated South at a time when some restrooms were for whites only. In other words, yes, you can help us get to the moon, but you need to use your own bathroom because we’re afraid of mingling with you.
Yet they called these women “human computers.” They were blow-you-away smart.
The only surviving member of the group portrayed in Hidden Figures, Katherine Johnson, calculated trajectories, launch windows, and emergency back-up return paths for space flights. She worked on the NASA missions of John Glenn and Alan Shepard and the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon.
NASA stated that Johnson’s contributions proved critical to the success of the Apollo Moon landing program and the start of the Space Shuttle program.
And we’re just learning about this now?
Only through the work of writer Margot Lee Shetterly, who wrote the book Hidden Figures, did the story come out. Actress Olivia Spencer, who plays Dorothy Vaughn, NASA’s first African American supervisor, told National Public Radio that when she first heard about the film, “she thought it was fiction.”
How can such an important contribution be hidden throughout the years?
If stories of other women inspire us, what happens to us and them if we don’t even hear their stories?