Fighting for Visibility: The inside story of “Hidden Figures”

NewImage has a great piece on the real life story that is told in the movie “Hidden Figures”

…These women, though not the faces memorialized in crowded mission-control room photos or seen waving from catwalks before launching beyond Earth’s grip, were nonetheless stars in their own right. And one of the brightest was Katherine Johnson.

Born in 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, Virginia, Johnson loved numbers as a child. She started college at West Virginia State University at age 15 and blew through the school catalog’s listed courses; her professor created new ones just for her. By 18, she had graduated summa cum laude with degrees in math and French. But career paths for black women were stark in the 1940s, even with a mind as sharp as Johnson’s. She taught school for more than a decade before joining the space race as one of the women, black and white, whom NASA (and its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA) hired as “computers”— people to do the math that kept NASA running.

When engineers needed to calculate the trajectory for Alan Shepard’s historic suborbital flight, Johnson volunteered. She told the men she worked with exactly where and how to shoot Shepard into the sky so he would splash down safely in range of watchful Navy ships. By the time Glenn orbited Earth, mechanical computers were beginning to replace humans. But Glenn, fearless as he was, wanted his path checked and his life in the hands of someone he could look in the eye, not an unfeeling machine. Johnson was that person, matching the computer decimal for decimal. And when Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins left Earth for the Moon, Johnson used the powerful new computers to calculate their trajectory as well. By the time she retired in 1986, she had left her fingerprints on NASA missions from the agency’s first forays beyond Earth into the space shuttle era.

Johnson and her colleagues, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, feature prominently in the new book Hidden Figures, by Margot Shetterly. The book, which came out in September 2016, is about to hit the big screen as a major motion picture. Johnson is the lead character, played by Taraji P. Henson of the Fox television show Empire; Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe round out the cast as Vaughan and Jackson, respectively.

Johnson is arguably the most famous of a group of black women Langley Research Center hired to perform calculations during World War II. They were known as the West Computers because they worked in the segregated West Area of Langley. Toiling as brainy beasts of burden, these women — and their white counterparts in the East wing — took math problems parceled out by engineers and solved them with lightning speed and meticulous accuracy.

Read the full piece here.

Adafruit publishes a wide range of writing and video content, including interviews and reporting on the maker market and the wider technology world. Our standards page is intended as a guide to best practices that Adafruit uses, as well as an outline of the ethical standards Adafruit aspires to. While Adafruit is not an independent journalistic institution, Adafruit strives to be a fair, informative, and positive voice within the community – check it out here:

Join Adafruit on Mastodon

Adafruit is on Mastodon, join in!

Stop breadboarding and soldering – start making immediately! Adafruit’s Circuit Playground is jam-packed with LEDs, sensors, buttons, alligator clip pads and more. Build projects with Circuit Playground in a few minutes with the drag-and-drop MakeCode programming site, learn computer science using the CS Discoveries class on, jump into CircuitPython to learn Python and hardware together, TinyGO, or even use the Arduino IDE. Circuit Playground Express is the newest and best Circuit Playground board, with support for CircuitPython, MakeCode, and Arduino. It has a powerful processor, 10 NeoPixels, mini speaker, InfraRed receive and transmit, two buttons, a switch, 14 alligator clip pads, and lots of sensors: capacitive touch, IR proximity, temperature, light, motion and sound. A whole wide world of electronics and coding is waiting for you, and it fits in the palm of your hand.

Have an amazing project to share? The Electronics Show and Tell is every Wednesday at 7pm ET! To join, head over to YouTube and check out the show’s live chat – we’ll post the link there.

Join us every Wednesday night at 8pm ET for Ask an Engineer!

Join over 36,000+ makers on Adafruit’s Discord channels and be part of the community!

CircuitPython – The easiest way to program microcontrollers –

Maker Business — “Packaging” chips in the US

Wearables — Enclosures help fight body humidity in costumes

Electronics — Transformers: More than meets the eye!

Python for Microcontrollers — Python on Microcontrollers Newsletter: Silicon Labs introduces CircuitPython support, and more! #CircuitPython #Python #micropython @ThePSF @Raspberry_Pi

Adafruit IoT Monthly — Guardian Robot, Weather-wise Umbrella Stand, and more!

Microsoft MakeCode — MakeCode Thank You!

EYE on NPI — Maxim’s Himalaya uSLIC Step-Down Power Module #EyeOnNPI @maximintegrated @digikey

New Products – Adafruit Industries – Makers, hackers, artists, designers and engineers! — #NewProds 7/19/23 Feat. Adafruit Matrix Portal S3 CircuitPython Powered Internet Display!

Get the only spam-free daily newsletter about wearables, running a "maker business", electronic tips and more! Subscribe at !

No Comments

No comments yet.

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.