When most people think about going to space, they think about astronauts. That makes sense, given that astronauts are the ones who go to space. But before they can float in the great nothingness or walk on the moon, there is a huge team of people who have extremely difficult work to do.
Spaceships have to be built. Flight paths have to be calculated. Suits have to be engineered. Communications systems have to be calibrated. And if any of those things are even slightly wrong, there are tragic consequences.
It’s no wonder, then, that NASA seeks out the best scientists, engineers, and mathematicians to do this work. But those brilliant minds don’t always get the recognition they deserve—especially when they are Black women living during Jim Crow.
Thankfully we have Hidden Figures, Margot Lee Shetterly’s moving account of the careers of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden—four Black women who became “human computers,” using their immense mathematical talent to do the calculations necessary to help get the United States to the moon for the first time. And did them by hand, mind you.
Made into a critically acclaimed film in 2016, Hidden Figures is a book that both celebrates academic talent and spotlights the success of unjustly forgotten geniuses.
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