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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 218

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Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race is a 2016 nonfiction book by Margot Lee Shetterly. It profiles the mathematicians, called "human computers," of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, the agency that preceded NASA). Specifically, it highlights three African American women named Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan, mathematicians and engineers whose contributions to the American space program of the 1950s and 1960s went unrecognized and unheralded for decades.

Mary Winston Jackson (1921-2005) studied air flow and drag patterns over US aircraft, authoring or co-authoring a dozen technical papers on the subject. She was the first woman of color to serve as a NASA engineer.

Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson, who recently observed her hundredth birthday, was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her mathematical efforts on behalf of Project Mercury and the space shuttle program. It was she who plotted the trajectory for Alan Shepard's space flight, the first by any American.

Dorothy Johnson Vaughan (1910-2008) was a computer programmer who served as the first African American supervisor at NACA.

The book also introduces readers to Dr. Christine Darden, born 1942, an expert in supersonic flight physics and the first African American woman promoted to the US civil service's Senior Executive Services classification.

Characters

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 192

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race is a 2016 book writen by Margot Lee Shetterly. This is a nonfiction story about three women mathematicians who worked for NASA in the 1930s.

The three main characters in the book are Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson.

Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson worked at NASA for 35 years as a mathematician who calculated the trajectories of orbits. She was known for deciphering complexity calculations and implementing the use of computers to aid in the calculations. Johnson worked on Project Mercury, the Apollo lunar lander, and on flights to the moon. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.

Dorothy Johnson Vaughn worked at NASA for 28 years as a mathematician and as the head of the programming department at Langley Research Center. Vaughn specialized in the programming language of FORTRAN, a language specific to scientific computations.

Mary Winston Jackson worked at NASA for 34 years as an aerospace engineer and mathematician. She was the first African American female engineer at NASA. Jackson believed in encouraging women to pursue careers in science, math, and engineering.

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