Let me introduce you to Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. It is truly one of science's unsung stories and histories that should be told in classrooms and schools.
It's the book behind the movie of the same name and I saw the movie trailer for the first time this week. Hence, I'm still stunned by the discovery as I write this. Why didn't the world know about these stories any earlier than now? It would have changed the powerful narrative during our lifetimes on who helped man get to the moon.
Just when I finally plucked up the courage as a non-scientist to write this science blog Unsung Science from a non-scientist's perspective, and launch it softly this week, without telling anyone, along comes this inspiring unsung science story. So it's just great to start my first post with the untold NASA story.
Hidden Figures is a true story of the untold history of NASA America's space programme back in the days of segregation. Remember the movies on Apollo II? Well, at least one of these brilliant African-American mathematicians had a key role in mathematics and computing the data and all that intense brain activity that was needed to get man to the moon.
Hidden Figures, turned into a movie by 20th Century Fox and begins screening this weekend across America, tells us about the remarkable NASA careers of three brilliant mathematicians named Katherine Goble Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. They were women, and they were women of colour. A double whammy but they didn't let that hold them back in pursuing their dreams (imagine that in a segregated country) and they didn't complain about it.
Johnson, Vaughan and Jackson, and many other thousands of un-named women who were at NASA in the early years of the space programme, defied expectations of the day and the gender and racial stereotypes that persist to this day. They are the unlikeliest of heroes in a story about America's space programme in its early days.
What makes this even more remarkable is that these smart women did not enjoy many of the freedoms we do today, such as the right to vote or desegregated workplaces and social settings, as actress Octavia Spencer who plays Dorothy Vaughan, pointed out during the NASA Hidden Figures media conference, held last month. This was just one role in their life, not their whole life. They had other roles as mothers and wives looking after their families, busy participating in their church and local community. It's also said during the NASA media conference that they did not pay attention to the gender or racial barriers in their daily work, until others focused on it. It was just the way it was.
I wish I'd seen history like this on TV when I was growing up. It inspires hope and promise. So I bought myself the book, a kindle copy of Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly, yesterday. And I will finish reading it by the end of this month.
So inspired, I've created a separate page dedicated to these wonderful new role models of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). Click on the button below to go there directly. Otherwise, please read on...
This history of excellence and quiet achievement in a field that black women, and women of colour, are rarely seen in, fills me with hope and excitement. And a sense of possibility and joy for the next generation and what's possible.
But that question still remains: why didn't we know this earlier? Gratitude to NASA and writer Margot Lee Shetterly for uncovering this untold history. Looking forward to seeing Hidden Figures, the movie, when it hits movie screens across New Zealand at the end of this month.