I may have mentioned that I belong to a book group, part of an area newcomers’ group. My daughter chose the book for May, Hidden Figures, same as the movie, an account of three African-American women vital to the space program. This weekend, I watched the movie. One question became a blinking sign as I both read the book and watched the movie: why didn’t we know about these women before?
By now, if you’ve read my posts here, on my own blog, or over at Paranormal Romantics, you know I’m a space fanatic. Like the rest of the world in 1958, I was stunned that Russia had put a satellite in orbit around our planet. I cheered, along with other TV viewers, as Alan Shepard became the first American in space, and when John Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth. National pride exhibited itself during parades and ceremonies naming schools after the Mercury 7 astronauts. (My younger siblings went to John Glenn High School.) Posters of the astronauts from NASA decorated my classroom bulletin boards.
I never knew what went on behind the scenes to achieve those milestones in space exploration. Frankly, I never thought about the hours/days/years of engineering and computing plus tests (many failed tests) that took place first.
Did you know that women did the computing for the engineers? In fact, the women were called computers. That was long before the machines. Today, we’re so used to the term computer referring to our laptops, desktops, and tablets that calling people computers seems weird.
Did you know that during WWII due to a desperate need, especially for mathematicians and physicists, President Roosevelt desegregated the defense industry? That was long before Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka.
When women like Katherine (Goble) Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson discovered they could earn three times more working at NACA (NASA’s predecessor) than teaching, they jumped on the opportunity and became human computers, “colored” computers. Desegregation only went so far.
Like many in my book group, I found the book boring. Not the content, but the way it was written. How in heaven’s name, I thought as I skimmed, did this book become a movie? It read more like a dry textbook. At our meeting after discussing the content, we watched “the making of” Hidden Figures. Our discussion then went into high gear, centering on why didn’t we know about these women? Why didn’t we know that John Glenn refused to go into space without Katherine Johnson confirming the IBM computations? He trusted her, not a machine, and he was right to do so.
Not very many books-into-movies make me say the movie was better. This one did. If you haven’t already, watch it. Maybe you, too, will ask “why didn’t we know?” Or . . .
What else don’t we know?
Diane Burton combines her love of mystery, adventure, science fiction, and romance into writing romantic fiction. Besides the science fiction romance Switched and Outer Rim series, she is the author of One Red Shoe, a romantic suspense, and the Alex O’Hara PI mysteries. She blogs here on the 30th of each month, on Paranormal Romantics on the 13th, and on her own blog on Mondays.