Hidden Figures is an inspiring and informative movie that celebrates the extraordinary African American female mathematicians who worked for NASA in the early years of the United States space program. From Katherine Johnson’s whirlwind calculations to Mary Jackson’s groundbreaking engineering feats, their stories show how ordinary people can make extraordinary contributions to society while overcoming immense obstacles along the way. Here’s a look at three of the key figures featured in Hidden Figures and their impressive accomplishments.
Katherine Johnson distinguished herself from hundreds of other mathematicians with her real-world expertise and her ability to make swift and accurate calculations in her head. During her long and decorated career at NASA, she calculated trajectories for the manned satellite Project Mercury, the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon, and even the failed mission of Apollo 13. She was used as a go-to for double-checking the data from the computers. Her work was nothing short of remarkable and lifesaving.
Mary Jackson’s story is that of an average person with a passion to succeed. An engineer and aeronautical specialist, Jackson didn’t initially attend college to pursue her dream, but she made it possible by taking night classes and fighting to attend segregated engineering classes at previously all-white public schools. After overcoming all the obstacles in her way and completing the requisite courses, she received the certification and recognition she deserved, paving the way for other female engineers and innovators in the process.
Dorothy Vaughan did more than just make great contributions to the United States space program. She was also an important advocate for women and people of color working in the field of engineering and technology. After more than a decade of dedication and service, she became the first African American manager at the Langley Research Center. Not only did she lead a team of female engineers, but she also pushed the boundaries of computing technology, developing and teaching computer programming languages at a time when programming was a largely male-dominated field.
Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan were all remarkable technical minds who contributed greatly to the success of the United States space program. But even more importantly, their stories are a testament to the power of lifting each other up, and to what can be achieved when passion and hard work are combined with courage and the determination to reach for greater heights.
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