Black women serving as human computers to American space program remained long unrecognized

Black women serving as human computers to American space program remained long u

Before the advent of electronic computers, human computers helped NASA, which then was The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, to do space research. Black African-American women worked as human computers to assist in space exploration. Despite their great support, black women were never recognized for their talent and work. But now people show interest in lives and achievements of these women who deserved much credit.

It was during World War II that NASA started to recruit women to work as computers for the organization. Their advertisement also targeted African-American community to eliminate racial discrimination in the defense industry. Later these women were most important aspect of America’s space program. One such employee was Katherine Johnson, who worked in mathematical computations. Johnson was one who plotted the trajectory for Alan Shephard’s 1961 flight. Alan Shephard was the first American in Space.

Even when the electronic computers arrived, they were not as perfect as today, so it could not be trusted completely. NASA put electronic computers into use in 1962 for the first time. But still the need of the human computer did not end. Johnson was very good in her job. When John Glenn was taking a flight for his orbit to Earth, he asked Johnson to double check calculation done by the electronic computers by hand.

John Glenn even said if Johnson would say the numbers were good, he would be ready for flight. As time passed, technology took to new heights, importance of human computer became less significant and the trend continued to fall to the level when there were not many who would say black women served as human computer ever.

The women never received enough praise during their time. So not many remember them, but we can come across information about them through some limited sources. One of this could be NASA’s own sort-of-wiki for Human Computers that gives knowledge of achievement of these women and what they have to go through to achieve.

According to a report in Jalopnik by Raphael Orlove, "The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the predecessor to NASA, started hiring women as computers (back when that was a job title for people before the advent of our current electronic devices) during World War II out of a need for non-draft-eligible employees."

That’s how NASA opened its eyes to women like Katherine Johnson, who was so good at her job of mathematical computations that she plotted the trajectory for Alan Shephard’s 1961 flight, the first American in space. When NASA started using electronic computers in ‘62, John Glenn specifically asked for her to double-check their math by hand for his first orbit of Earth.

The work they did was incredible, and you should read more about them, so here are some great sources, from both NASA and from The Human Computers Project by Margot Lee Shetterly, author of Hidden Figures.

A report published in Think Progress informed, "The highlights of the space race still loom large in the American imagination. John Glenn, the first man to orbit the earth, and Neil Armstrong, the first man to step on the moon, are both household names."

The trailer for Hidden Figures, an upcoming movie focusing on three black female mathematicians working at the NASA during the days of Jim Crow and the civil rights movement, attacks this erasure head on.

The movie trailer premiered to Twitter fanfare on Sunday night during Olympic prime time. Sandwiched between two Olympic events, the timing of the new trailer seemed aimed at generating buzz for these long-overlooked women among the widest audience possible.


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