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Hidden Figures highlights three black women who were vital to the U.S. space program

Hidden Figures highlights three black women who were vital to the U.S. space program

Despite racism and sexism, female “computers” put John Glenn into orbit

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6:00am, December 23, 2016
NASA image from "Hidden Figures"

HIDDEN FIGURES  By the 1940s, NASA Langley began recruiting black women to work as human computers, a role that would continue to be essential to the center’s operations.

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Hollywood space flicks typically feature one type of hero: astronauts who defy the odds to soar into space and back again. But now a group of behind-the-scenes heroes from the early days of the U.S. space program are getting their due. Black female mathematicians performed essential calculations to safely send astronauts to and from Earth’s surface — in defiance of flagrant racism and sexism.

These “computers” — as they were known before the electronic computer came into widespread use — are the subject of Hidden Figures. The film focuses on three black women — Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) — and their work at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., during the run-up to John Glenn’s orbit of the Earth in 1962.

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