Hidden Figures, How a Woman’s Creativity Saved NASA

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Hidden Figures is hands down the best movie I saw in 2016!

It’s the story of how one woman’s creativity saved not only a man’s life, but also the entire NASA program itself.

Katherine Johnson was one of a handful of African-American women who worked at NASA in the ‘50s. She referred to herself and her female colleagues as ‘virtual computers who wore skirts.’

Katherine says that she was pulled from the ‘colored computer pool’ to work on flight research because she always asked a lot of questions, while the rest of the women just did as they were told.

But it was Katherine’s creative use of geometry that made the all white male division “[forget] to return me to the pool.”

In 1962 John Glenn was slated to become the first American to orbit the earth. Right before launch, Katherine’s supervisor discovered that the fancy new IBM computer had turned our conflicting return longitudes and latitudes. When he shared this info with Glenn, Glenn refused to go up until Katherine had verified which of the computer’s numbers for launch and landing were correct.

Once in orbit Glenn’s heat shield started to fail.  Again Glenn and a panicked NASA supervisor turned to Katherine. She reassured them that her ‘return window’ numbers would get Glenn safely back to earth.

If Katherine’s geometry had been wrong, Glenn would’ve been incinerated upon re-entry.  In addition, his death would’ve most likely given Congress the reason they needed to stop funding NASA.

Fortunately for Glenn, Katherine’s numbers were spot on as usual.

Once Glenn survived, NASA had its eye on the moon, but had no idea how to get there. Katherine was told that she’d have to invent math that didn’t exist yet in order to make it happen. She did just that.

Lest you think I’ve given the whole movie away, I haven’t.  The story is powerful because it’s really about race, sexism, and the few folks on both sides that decided that they were going to move beyond their prejudices and make history.

So please read the book Hidden Figures, or go see the movie, or both. You’ll come out of it encouraged, empowered and ready to create something of your own. And who knows? Your creation just might be the thing that takes us to Mars, or saves an endangered species in the ocean, or adds beauty to the wall of a museum.
 
Would love to know what you thought of the movie/book. Please let me know by replying to this letter, or post your comments on my Facebook page, or tweet me.

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Purple Passion of the Fortnight:
Thank God Katherine is better at math than I am!

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