Many of you will be familiar with the movie Hidden Figures, which is based on the true story of three of the most remarkable women in NASA, and in the science field, period – Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson.
The Oscar-nominated movie, starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae gave us a glimpse into the story of the women who made it possible for astronaut John Glenn to launch into space.
As history goes, the stories of women’s achievements – black women especially – often remain untold or are buried beneath the achievements of men. An immediate example that comes to mind is that time when Olympic athletes Katie Ledecky and Michael Phelps both made headlines back in 2016.
Katie broke a world record, while Michael won silver, but as Vox.com points out, guess who got the main headline?
So unfortunately, even though we’ve made some strides to start recognising and telling these unheard stories, the rampant sexism and racism still persists today.
The movie introduced us to a story that, I’m ashamed to say, I wouldn’t have otherwise known about. But also, that brings me to my point about how stories like these shouldn’t simply be a movie.
Why aren’t children and young adults not learning about this in their school curriculum?
These women – Dorothy, Katherine and Mary, to mention but a few - were the brains behind the NASA operation.
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Their jobs included calculating the trajectories of space craft and they were so dependable that astronaut John Glenn even specifically requested mathematician Katherine’s calculations before launching into orbit.
Yet, in spite of their extraordinary skills, they were often discriminated against and were forced to use segregated bathrooms because of their race. So yes, they were working towards paving the way for mankind, but were treated less than equally.
To get back to my question about why we aren’t learning more about these remarkable women and what can be done about it… well, it seems that NASA is taking steps to ensuring that these women are celebrated for all they’ve achieved.
They’ve even named their new computation research facility after Katherine. It’s not enough, but at least it’s a start.
In the meantime, if you haven’t had a chance though – do yourself a favour and give Hidden Figures a watch.
And when you’re done – you can then buy the book it was based on.