Behind many of the scientific advancements that make our species so great are the genius African American minds that made it possible. Sadly because of the discrimination suffered by these people their accomplishments are often ignored or covered up. They are omitted from history books or their actions are attributed to others. In order to honor these individuals and to make sure that future great minds never suffer the same indignity, we must strive to uncover the truth. Let’s start with the African American women who helped make it possible to send a man to the Moon.
Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson were some of the first female African-Americans to work for NASA. Despite this incredible achievement, these women faced daily discrimination in their workplace. Their restrooms, dining halls, and workspaces were racially segregated. The office in which they worked was labeled the “Colored Computers.” A film honoring the legacy of these women named Hidden Figures depicts the challenges Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson faced while working at NASA. Here is a clip of Mary Jackson petitioning a judge to be allowed to attend an all-white high school.
In spite of the challenges and hardships all three women excelled at their jobs and were critical to the success of many missions. Dorothy Vaughan became the first black supervisor at NASA and worked on the Scout Launch Vehicle Program. Katherine Johnson calculated the trajectory for the first American in space and the trajectory for the Apollo 11 flight to the Moon. Mary Jackson became NASA’s first black female engineer and authored 12 technical papers for NASA. She dedicated much of her time to helping other women and minorities advance in their careers. Here is a clip from Hidden Figures showing Katherine Johnson calculated the trajectory of a capsule coming back to Earth.
When we think of humankind reaching the Moon we often imagine igniting rockets, men in space suits, and the emptiness of space. But it’s equally important that we acknowledge the people that made it possible. The people like Jackson, Vaughn, and Johnson who got those people into space and made sure they came back safe.