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The Black Women Who Sent NASA To Space!
Last comment by Funkentelecky 1 year, 4 months ago.

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In honor of Black History Month. I will share a Black History Moment Daily.

By the time NASA was preparing to send John Glenn into space computers were used to calculate launch conditions.

It wasn't long before then that the space agency and its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, used "computers in skirts" to do all the number-crunching.
That's right: humans, namely women, comprised the workforce known as the "Computer Pool" before the arrival of electronic data processors, aka, computers in the 1960s. Black women played a crucial role in the pool, providing mathematical data for NASA's first successful space missions, including Glenn's pioneering orbital spaceflight.

Their work barely earned a mention in pop culture space tributes until this year.t Langley.

Katherine Johnson

Johnson was born in 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, where education for black people ended in eighth grade. Recognizing their youngest daughter's talent for math, her parents sent her to high school on the campus of West Virginia State Institute, a black college 100 miles away. It paid off and she graduated from high school at 14 and graduated from West Virginia State in 1937 at 18.
Like many women of her time she became a teacher -- but her sights were set on becoming a research mathematician. When she learned of a job opening at Langley for black women with math degrees she and her husband moved their three daughters to Newport News, Virginia. She started in in the segregated West Area Computing Group in 1953 under Dorothy Vaughan. After just two weeks, she transferred to the facility's Flight Research Division. She worked there for years until the Soviet satellite Sputnik kicked off the space race between the US and the USSR, spurring the transformation of NACA into America's space agency, NASA.

She pushed her way into briefings traditionally attended only by men and secured a place in the inner circle of the American Space Program. She worked on trajectories for Shepard's Mercury flight, America's first manned spaceflight, and earned a measure of fame as "the girl" -- as female mathematicians were called -- who double-checked the output for Glenn's spaceflight. Her work helped map the moon's surface ahead of the 1969 landing and played a role in the safe return of the Apollo 13 astronauts. She retired in 1989 and lives in Virginia.

Dorothy Vaughan
Vaughan was born in 1910 in Kansas City, Missouri and graduated from Wilberforce University in Zenia, Ohio, in 1926. She was hired at Langley in 1943 in response to high wartime demand for aeronautical research data, leaving behind a job as a math teacher in Farmville, Virginia. She rose from mathematician to supervisor of West Area Computing Group, making her NACA's first black supervisor. She held onto the role, overseeing Johnson and Mary Jackson, until NACA made the transition to NASA and segregated facilities were abolished.

Dorothy Vaughn
She joined the new Analysis and Computation Division, a racially and gender-integrated group on the cutting edge of electronic computing. She became an expert FORTRAN programmer and contributed to the Scout Launch Vehicle Program before retiring in 1971. She unsuccessfully sought another management position in Langley. She died in 2008.

Mary Jackson
Jackson was born in Hampton, Virginia, in 1921. She graduated from Hampton Institute in 1942 with degrees in physical science and mathematics and became a teacher before starting her career at Langley, and later on NASA.

Mary Jackson at Work NASA Langley

She started working under Vaughan in the 1950s, focusing on processing data from wind tunnel experiments and experimental flights. Later on, she worked with flight test engineers and eventually became an engineer. As her career progressed she worked to help fellow women and minorities advance their careers through educational attainment. After 30 years she moved into administration and took a job in NASA's Equal Opportunity office, overseeing affirmative action programs and career development for women. She died in 2005.


Latest Activity: Feb 02, 2017 at 8:39 AM

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gacpl commented on Thursday, Feb 02, 2017 at 15:20 PM

While Johnson retired. A little know thing about her is even though nasa had become comfortable with computers doing their advanced math. They would still bring papers to her to have her double check them seen they had more faith in her then computers.

wayne44 commented on Thursday, Feb 02, 2017 at 17:22 PM

It is a shame these ladies did not get the recognition they deserved for their contribution to the Space Program until now.

PoliticsNation commented on Thursday, Feb 02, 2017 at 18:05 PM

Very grateful and thankful for the positive comments.

wood17 commented on Thursday, Feb 02, 2017 at 23:33 PM

I suspect that few people in the space programs outside of the astronauts have received much recognition. Iran is just now trying to figure out how to fire a rocket over a thousand miles. It is amazing what our country and our citizens have accomplished in the last 100 years. Thank you for recognizing these ladies as part of a globally elite group of people who helped shock the world.

Funkentelecky commented on Friday, Feb 03, 2017 at 12:34 PM

Great educational post PN! Its ironic that this all happened in my backyard and I didn't know didly about it until recently. I was born and raised in the Tidewater area of Virginia consisting of 7 cities that you could travel to within 30 minutes or less each. The cities are Suffolk which I was born, Norfolk 15 miles north of Suffolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Virginia Beach, Newport News and Hampton. Thanks for sharing.

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