NASA's Untold Story Revealed In 'Hidden Figures'

First Posted: Jan 07, 2017 03:30 AM EST

The late astronaut John Glenn became an American hero for being the first American to orbit the Earth in 1962. While millions of people looked up to his remarkable solo mission, a new movie highlights what the world did not know about -- the three unsung African-American heroines behind NASA's success.

Wired reported that the new film Hidden Figures depicts the untold story of Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monae), NASA's engineers and mathematicians who figured out John Glenn's launch into space and landing on Earth without getting the credit they deserved.

These black women were the "human computers" when IBM computers were just emerging. Katherine Johnson was responsible for the thousands of calculations on Glenn's launching and landing, while Dorothy Vaughan was NASA's pioneer computer programmer who dealt with the job-threatening transition of manual computations to computer calculations.

"Now, we're in a time when technology is shifting jobs in a similar way as it did in the '60s," said Bill Barry, NASA's chief historian who worked with Hidden Figures co-writer and director Ted Melfi. "Dorothy saw what was coming, and reinvented herself again and again."

"Those who speak of NASA's pioneers rarely mention the name Dorothy Vaughan, but as the head of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics' (NACA's) segregated West Area Computing Unit from 1949 until 1958, Vaughan was both a respected mathematician and NASA's first African-American manager," the space agency stated.

The film was inspired by the book titled Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race written by Margot Lee Shetterly who interviewed the former female computers at NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia.

According to Bill Barry, this unacknowledged black female work force was overshadowed by NASA's well-known history "about the astronauts, doing battle with the Soviet Union in space."

Hidden Figures is now showing in theaters worldwide.

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