Many Americans are familiar with the astronaut heroes of the 20th century space race — names like Gus Grissom and Neil Armstrong. But who did the calculations that would successfully land these men on the moon?
Several of the NASA researchers who made space flight possible were women. Among them were black women who played critical roles in the aeronautics industry even as Jim Crow was alive and well.
“When the first five black women took their seat in the office in 1943, it was in a segregated office with a ‘colored girls’ bathroom and a table for the ‘colored’ computers,” author Margot Lee Shetterly tells NPR’s Michel Martin.
Shetterly, a Hampton, Va., native and daughter of a former Langley scientist, tells the story of these women in the new book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. The book has already been adapted for the big screen; the film starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae premieres in January.