I’d like to honor these women who shaped our journey to the stars. Whether the first in space or critical to getting beyond our atmosphere, there remains something truly powerful about their impact. Today, I’ll be sharing brief biopics of some historically significant women who crushed expectations and discrimination. They were first in their field and changed the world for the better.
A film adaptation of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped by Margot Lee Shetterley popularized the stories of some of the women I’ll be discussing today. I recommend the film and book (something I’ll soon be reading myself).
Dorothy Johnson Vaughan, Katherine G. Johnson, and Mary Jackson, the three women from Hidden Figures, all contributed to flight plans, satellite launches, and other forms aeronautical data crunching. We’re talking gravity-defying mathematics sure to set most average heads spinning. Not only were these women powerful in their mental ability, but personally and socially, too. They triumphed over segregation and ignorance, paving the way for future generations.
Vaughan made her way into NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics), the precursor to NASA, while things were still very divided. Her tenacity and thirst for knowledge paved the way for place as the first black supervisor for the organization. If that weren’t enough, she led NASA through its transition into desegregation. Eventually, she worked alongside Johnson and Jackson to send John Glenn into space.
Johnson, a child prodigy out of West Virginia, was no stranger to the setbacks of segregation. Her family moved 120 miles just so she could attend high school! Even more outspoken than Vaughan, Johnso found herself moved from a general computing pool into a promotion after two weeks. A full-time mother and mathematician, she proved herself daily, sending Alan Sheppard into space with her calculation approval. After working to send John Glenn spacewards, she stayed with NASA until her retirement.
Although Vaughan and Johnson caused more noticeable ripples and hold their own impressive parts in history, Jackson holds the role of first black female engineer for NASA. This is certainly no small feat, considering the sociopolitical pushback of the time.
With the groundbreaking contributions of these women, and others beyond NASA, Mae C. Jemison pioneered yet another first for black women. She is the first astronaut of her kind, participating in several missions and logging 190 hours in space. She is currently alive and researching advanced technologies with her company, the Jemison Group.
Blitz, Matt. “The True Story Of ‘Hidden Figures’ And The Women Who Crunched The Numbers For NASA”. Popular Mechanics, 2017, https://www.popularmechanics.com/space/rockets/a24429/hidden-figures-real-story-nasa-women-computers/.
“Dorothy Johnson Vaughan”. Biography, 2019, https://www.biography.com/people/dorothy-johnson-vaughan-111416. Accessed 20 Feb 2019.
“Katherine G. Johnson”. Biography, 2019, https://www.biography.com/people/katherine-g-johnson-101016. Accessed 20 Feb 2019.
“Mae C. Jemison”. Biography, 2019, https://www.biography.com/people/mae-c-jemison-9542378.
“Mary Jackson”. Biography, 2019, https://www.biography.com/people/mary-winston-jackson-120616.