Before computers became machines, they were people. Hidden Figures shines a light on Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan—African American women hired as human computers by NASA, assigned to handle mathematical calculations for engineers.
See the film for free on August 3 during the Space & Science Festival.
These women, and others who worked behind the scenes at NASA (then NACA) in the 1940s and 1950s, were essential to early spaceflight. Katherine Johnson, for example, developed trajectory equations that would result in a desired touchdown point and time. The complicated calculations made sure a space capsule would pass over a specific latitude and longitude on Earth so that the Navy could be there to rescue the astronaut once he splashed down.
Her trajectory equations successfully lifted astronauts into space, launched the Apollo program to the moon, brought a lander down to the moon’s surface and delivered crews safely back to Earth.
Johnson, Vaughan and Jackson all moved beyond the role of computer to become engineers, computer programmers or mathematicians—often the first women of color in their positions.
Their accomplishments challenged the perception that women couldn’t excel in scientific work. Though this perception has changed, women remain underrepresented in STEM fields. After the screening of Hidden Figures, stay for a discussion about the film and women in space exploration by special guests from NASA, including Shelia Nash-Stevenson, one of the first African American women in the United States to get a PhD in physics.