From Computers to Leaders: The Story of the Women Portrayed in Hidden Figures, a New Movie
NASA research mathematician Katherine Johnson is photographed at her desk at NASA Langley Research Center with a globe, or "Celestial Training Device."
"I guess it's inevitable that I would become somebody who would write about scientists," she said.
In fact, Hidden Figures, a book Margot Lee Shetterly [has written] about the history of the African-American women who came to work at NASA Langley starting during World War II, [landed] on bookstore shelves in 2016. (Editor's Note: This talk was given in 2014.)
But on a visit to NASA Langley, Shetterly's focus wasn't on her book. She was at the center to give a talk on the female mathematicians — or human computers — who worked behind the scenes at NASA Langley to support the men so often credited with making major advances to America's aeronautics and space programs.
Much of what Shetterly discovered about the human computers came to light as she was researching her book. She was intrigued enough by her findings to begin working on an entirely new project. Along with Duchess Harris, a professor of American Studies at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., Shetterly is collecting oral histories, photos, research reports and other artifacts from human computers and compiling them into something called The Human Computer Project.
"Really, the importance of what I'm doing, I think, is to put the stories of these women on the historical record so that we can all celebrate the foundational work that they did," she said.
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