On Feb. 20, 1962, John Glenn blasted off into space and became the first American to orbit the Earth. Behind the scenes, thousands of engineers and mathematicians worked tirelessly to make NASA’s Friendship 7 mission a success. Historical photos show them as white men in crisp white shirts and ties — but we now know there’s more to that picture.
In her book Hidden Figures, author Margot Lee Shetterly gives name and voice to the African-American women who worked as human “computers” in the space program. Now, just a few months after the book was published, a new movie is also telling that story. (The film rights were optioned just a couple weeks after Shetterly got her book deal.) As mathematicians and engineers, these women made incalculable contributions to the space program — and the fact that they were African-Americans working in the segregated South makes their stories even more remarkable.’
Photo: Bob Nye/Courtesy NASA Langley Caption: According to NASA, Mary Jackson “may have been the only black female aeronautical engineer in the field” in the 1950s. Singer and actress Janelle Monae plays her in the film Hidden Figures.
“Few people are brilliant enough to be a computer programmer or a mathematician. Even fewer can add "rocket scientist for NASA” to their resume. Annie Easley, however, was all three. During her 34-year career, she worked not only on technologies that led to hybrid vehicles, but also on software that enabled great strides in spaceflight and exploration. And if that wasn’t notable enough, Easley also did all of this as one of the first few African-Americans in her field.“