Why Hidden Figures should have gotten an Oscar

“There’s quite a few women working in the space program.”

Hidden Figures tells the story of three fantastic African-American female mathematicians who defied all expectations to be three key components to the Mercury program at NASA.

Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, and Dorothy Vaughn worked for NASA, but their potential was always denied by NASA because of segregated bathrooms, segregated work areas, and other segregated aspects. They are each given the opportunity to work in their specific fields, and they excel, successfully helping the late Senator John Glenn reach Earth orbit and get him back safely.

Taraji P. Henson, Janelle Monae, and Octavia Spencer each give Oscar-worthy performances in their respective roles in the untold story and give us a feeling of what segregation in the workplace feels like in one of the biggest government-funded organizations in our country…

…Katherine Johnson’s famous mathematics predicted the trajectory for Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom before she famously calculated John Glenn’s launch and re-entry. The calculations had been made by newly installed IBM computers, but the astronauts wanted to make sure the calculations were correct in the pre-flight checklist, so, as in the words of John Glenn, “Get the girl.” Mission Control in Houston had Johnson confirm the calculations to make sure the trajectory was just right. She later on synched Project Apollo’s Lunar Module with the Command Module, which she considers her greatest feat with NASA. Johnson later worked within the Space Shuttle program, co-authoring twenty-six research reports before retiring in 1986.

The late Mary Jackson began her career in a time it was strange to have a woman be an engineer. In fact, she was NASA’s female African American engineer. For almost two decades, Jackson had a productive engineering career, authoring many research reports. She focused mainly on the behavior of the boundary layer of air around airplanes.

Segregation laws prevented her from working with her white co-workers, but the late Dorothy Vaughn became head of West Computing in 1949. After integration became common through NASA, Vaughn became an expert with the newly installed IBM machines, being able to get them to calculate numbers in seconds. She also became a FORTRAN programmer, contributing to the Scout Launch Vehicle Program.

If it were up to me, I would tell you immediately to go see the movie. It is a great lesson on the beginning of NASA and an even greater lesson on racism during the civil rights movement. In the end, it is a feel-good drama that combines history, humor, and harsh humanities of the civil rights era into a fantastic movie.

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