Black or white, East or West, single or married, mothers or childless, women were now a fundamental part of the aeronautical-research process.
–Courtesy of William Morrow
Working as a research mathematician at Langley was a very, very good black job — and it was also a very, very good female job.
They had learned the techniques of aeronautical research on the job, the ambitious among them would have to figure out for themselves what it would take to advance as a woman in a profession that was built by men.
Finding a way to move from being one of the girls to one of the Head Girls took time and persistence, pluck and luck, and there were only so many slots available: while even lower-level male managers might supervise the work of female computers, it was simply unthinkable for a man to report to a woman.
Hidden Figures: The African American Women Mathematicians Who Helped NASA and the United States Win the Space Race: An Untold Story by Margot Shetterly will be released in 2016. Most Americans have no idea that from the 1940s through the 1960s, a cadre of African-American women formed part of the country’s space work force, or that this group—mathematical ground troops in the Cold War—helped provide NASA with the raw computing power it needed to dominate the heavens. Ms. Shetterly has been researching the role of the women for several years, primarily at NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA. This presentation on her research was given at Langley in March 2014.
For more on these women, see http:crgis.ndc.nasa.gov/historic/Human_Computers.
For more on the work of Margot Shetterly, see
NASA mathematicians Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) cross gender and race lines to help launch astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) into outer space.
Remember that time we sent the first American into space? You should thank black mathematician and NASA genius Katherine Johnson for that.
An incredible conversation with a NASA Langley pioneer. We’ll meet the extraordinary woman whose math skills were so sharp, she was known as the “human computer.” Katherine Johnson worked at NASA Langley in Hampton during the 1950’s—a woman and an African-American who broke through barriers and made history along the way.
NASA commemorated the many contributions of retired mathematician Katherine Johnson to America’s space program during a building dedication ceremony on May 5, at the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Langley’s new Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility was formally dedicated to the venerated mathematician and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient.
Johnson worked at Langley from 1953 until her retirement in 1986, beginning as a research mathematician — part of a pool of women hired to perform mathematical equations and calculations by hand for engineers. She quickly distinguished herself and was permanently assigned to the branch that would later calculate the launch windows for NASA’s first Project Mercury flights.
Notable accomplishments include her computation, by hand, of the launch window and trajectory for Alan Shepard’s maiden space voyage aboard Freedom 7 in 1961, and verification, also by hand, of calculations made by the first computers for John Glenn’s history-making orbit around the Earth in 1962. She also calculated the trajectory for the historic Apollo 11 first moon landing flight in 1969.