‘Hidden Figures’ Tells True Story Of 3 Brilliant NASA Women Behind Historic Space Launch

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‘Hidden Figures’ Tells True Story Of 3 Brilliant NASA Women Behind Historic Space Launch
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‘Hidden Figures’ is “the incredible untold story of Katherine G. Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe)—brilliant African-American women working at NASA, who served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race, and galvanized the world.” As the official film synopsis concludes, “The visionary trio crossed all gender and race lines to inspire generations to dream big.”

These are the details of the monumental event Katherine, Dorothy, and Mary’s collective brain power made possible…

On February 20, 1962, Glenn piloted the Mercury-Atlas 6 “Friendship 7” spacecraft on the first manned orbital mission of the United States. Launched from Cape Canaveral (Florida) Launch Complex 14, he completed a successful three-orbit mission around the earth, reaching a maximum altitude (apogee) of approximately 162 statute miles and an orbital velocity of approximately 17,500 miles per hour. Glenn’s “Friendship 7” Mercury spacecraft landed approximately 800 miles southeast of Cape Canaveral in the vicinity of Grand Turk Island. Mission duration from launch to impact was 4 hours, 55 minutes, and 23 seconds. (Source: NASA)

The film, in theaters January 13, 2017, also stars Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, Jim Parsons, Mahershala Ali, Aldis Hodge, and Glen Powell. It’s based on the book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, which is due out this September 6th.


Katherine G. Johnson

“I counted everything. I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed … anything that could be counted, I did.” – Katherine Johnson, NASA Mathematician, recipient of the 2015 National Medal of Freedom, our nation’s highest civilian honor

In 1953, after years as a teacher and later as a stay-at-home mom, Katherine, an extraordinary mathematician, began working for NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA. The NACA had taken the unusual step of hiring women for the tedious and precise work of measuring and calculating the results of wind tunnel tests in 1935.  In a time before the electronic computers we know today, these women had the job title of “Computer.” As a Computer, Katherine calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American in space. Even after NASA began using electronic computers, John Glenn requested that she personally recheck the calculations made by the new electronic computers before his flight aboard Friendship 7 – the mission on which he became the first American to orbit the Earth. She continued to work at NASA until 1986 combining her math talent with electronic computer skills. Her calculations proved as critical to the success of the Apollo Moon landing program and the start of the Space Shuttle program, as they did to those first steps on the country’s journey into space. (learn more about her here)

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Photo credit: NASA


Dorothy Vaughan

Dorothy, a Computer for NASA from 1943-1971, did computer programming, becoming proficient in coding languages such as FORTRAN, and also contributed to the space program through her work on the Scout Project. In a 1994 interview, Dorothy recalled that working at Langley during the Space Age felt like being on “the cutting edge of something very exciting.” (learn more about her here)

Dorothy_Vaughan

Pictured from left to right: Dorothy Vaughan with Leslie Hunter and Vivian Adair. Photo credit: NASA


Mary Jackson

Mary began her career with NACA as a Computer, where she specialized in reducing data from wind tunnel experiments and from actual aircraft data on the many flight experiments NACA was involved with. Her desk was located with other Computers and it wasn’t until many, many years later that she was assigned to work directly with the flight test engineers. Mary was with NACA/NASA from 1950- 1985. (learn more about her here)

Mary Jackson

Mary Jackson pictured on the far right in the front row of other Computers (circa 1950s). Click image to enlarge. Photo credit: NASA

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