The Oscar-nominated movie “Hidden Figures” dramatizes the contributions of a corps of African-American women who did mathematical calculations for the NASA space program in the early 1960s, before computers, as we know them, were in use. Because the women did the computational work, they were called “computers”.
The movie is based on true events described in the book “Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly. Specifically, it focuses on the experiences of three black women with extraordinary skills and incredible minds. They were Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. The women were instrumental in the success of the Friendship 7 mission in which John Glenn orbited the earth. According to the NASA history website, “this Mercury-Atlas (MA) 6 mission also reestablished NASA and the U.S. as a strong contender in the space race with the Soviet Union…and set the stage for Projects Gemini and Apollo during the 1960s and all later U.S. human spaceflight activities.”
They accomplished all this while remaining composed in the face of racial prejudice and gender discrimination. Therefore, it is fitting that we credit the contributions of these unsung heroes during Black History Month (February) and Women’s History Month (March).
If you want to read more, including an interview with Katherine Goble Johnson, you may consult the following databases provided by the Upper Arlington Public Library.