Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Hidden Figures by Diane Burton

photo credit: IMDB
Have you seen the movie Hidden Figures? Even if you haven’t, you’ve probably seen the trailers on TV about three black women whose contributions were vital to the space program. Anyone who has read my posts here and on my own blog knows that I’m crazy about space travel. When Russia put Sputnik into orbit around Earth, the adults were convinced they were spying on the U.S., that they could drop a bomb from space and obliterate our country. In school, we hid under our desks and covered our heads in preparation for a nuclear bomb. Yeah, that would save us. But, I digress.

The local book group I belong to read the book Hidden Figures, which seemed more like a textbook. But that didn't stop the producers from making a movie about three amazing black women, representative of hundreds black and white. Women who responded to the government’s call for mathematicians and physicists during World War II. Because of that need, President Roosevelt desegregated the defense industry thereby paving the way for black women to earn three times as much as they made teaching. Who wouldn’t jump on that? But, just because the president ordered desegregation it didn't erase years of treating black women as second/third class citizens. I could get on my soapbox about treating women, in general, as second class. Again, I digress.

The contributions of women to the space program is immeasurable. They were called computers. That was their job title. They performed all the scientific equations, by hand, that enabled NASA to propel a man into space and bring him home again. Even when what we know as “real” computers (IBMs) were brought in, the women learned to use them. But people back then didn’t trust machines. In both the book and the movie, we learn that John Glenn refused to launch until Katherine Johnson confirmed the machine’s computations, computations she performed by hand.

Even though I’ve followed the space program since the original seven astronauts, watched the liftoffs of Alan Shepard and John Glenn on television, listened to news anchors describe what was going to happen and brought in scientists with diagrams, etc. I never knew about the contributions of the women who worked behind the scenes. Without them, we would’ve been playing catch up to the Russians for years.

Remember, that was during the Cold War. Nationalism in the U.S. was so strong in the 1950s and 1960s we had to be better than the Russians. If they put a rocket into space, why didn’t we have one? Their man got into space before ours. Talk about humiliation. President Kennedy challenged us even more—that before the end of the decade (1960s) we would put a man on the moon.

Once we did that, we didn’t have a national challenge. Even though NASA continued with the shuttle and the space station, Americans couldn’t see that those were preparations for exploring more of our solar system. Next stop Mars. Did we not listen or didn’t NASA explain their goals well enough? Maybe we didn’t care anymore. Budgets have been cut. Isn't it ironic that we send our astronauts to the former Soviet Union to be launched? (Side note: watch Interstellar to see what happens when all funding for the space program is cut.) 

Hidden Figures was truly an inspirational movie. I saw the movie on DVD and the extras, especially “behind the scenes”, were even better. As I watched, I remembered the pride in our country that I felt in those days. But more than that, I felt pride that women contributed so much and inspired others to go into the space program. Along with that pride, I felt anger that their contributions have been ignored for far too long.



11 comments:

Maureen said...

I'll have to check this out! I wasn't familiar with the book/movie. Thanks for sharing.

CJ Burright said...

Hidden Figures was a FABULOUS movie! I loved how three brilliant women kicked their way past prejudice and made their mark on NASA. Acknowledging them was long overdue.

Diane Burton said...

Maureen, you won't regret checking out the movie. But if you enjoy nonfiction, check out the book, too.

Diane Burton said...

CJ, Those women were phenomenal. Despite all the prejudice they endured, they still did their jobs to the best of their abilities. They carried on, yet pushed the boundaries. They said the Kevin Costner character was a combination of three men. Thank goodness, they realized how much Katherine Johnson could contribute. They gave her a chance.

Sheena-kay Graham said...

Truly sad that their contributions were ignored so long. Glad this movie highlighted that.

Francesca Quarto said...

This is one of the movies on my must see list! Great idea for a rainy summer day when I can't be in the garden. Recognizing the contributions of these women is surely an over-due story to bring to the American public. Makes me proud of my gender! Thanks for sharing your own passion for space, Diane. Look where it led you; the endless space of your imagination!

Francesca Q.

Diane Burton said...

Sheena-kay, you are so right. It's about time the public knew about their contributions.

Diane Burton said...

Francesca, it's a perfect movie for that rainy day. The contributions of women have been ignored for too long. I'm so glad the author brought the stories of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson to light. Within the space community, their stories were well known. Now the rest of the country/world knows. Katherine Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. She'll be 99 in August and appears in the "extras" feature on the DVD. All three women are great role models.

Alecia Madonado said...
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Nancy Gideon said...

Awesome post, Di. Can't wait for the movie to get here via Netflix. Love the actresses and am beyond proud to see them bring this story the attention it deserves. Yes, I too wonder where that American pride we felt in those moments went.

Diane Burton said...

Nancy, the actresses did a fine job portraying those women. I'm sure you'll enjoy the movie. I heard talk that it's being considered for an Oscar. I hope so.