Monday, January 16, 2017

Hidden Figures is a Must See!

By Lynn Billman
Chairman of the Board of the American Scientific Affiliation

If you haven’t yet, be sure to go see “Hidden Figures,” a wonderful true-story movie about the black women mathematicians who worked for NASA in the early 1960s. These women were key to the manual calculations for launches and orbits that had to be made in the early stages of the U.S. space program. They were also critical to the early programming of the first IBM computers used by NASA, and one featured in the movie was the first female black engineer in NASA. The movie is based on the book, “Hidden Figures – The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race,” by Margot Lee Shetterly, currently #1 on the New York Times best seller list (according to Amazon).

The movie highlights very clearly the biases these women had to work against, both because they were women and because they were black. As a couple scenes made clear, they were / are also Christians. The patience, perseverance, and resourcefulness of these phenomenally smart women was incredibly inspiring, as they forced changes to cultural norms and were true pioneers. As the epilogue showed at the end of the movie, their contributions were eventually recognized, praise God!

I went with the three young women millennials in my family, and we had good laughs and sharing over coffee afterward as I recounted my own experiences in that era (yes, the white hair is well earned!) -- fumbling with decks of computer cards while learning Fortran, the realities of Jim Crow in Virginia in the early 1960s, the excitement of the entire nation at every event in the early space program, the sense of fear from Soviet progress with rockets in their space program that could threaten America. Ah, the bad old days!

So grab a friend and head for the theater. I hope this movie will inspire you, and perhaps rekindle some sense of hope about America.

Related reading: Six NASA Women Who Made History

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