Sunday, January 8, 2017

Hidden History (In the Category of Say What You Mean)

I wanted to be an astronaut when I was little girl. I have always loved the stars, and the idea of floating among them enthralled me. My dad quickly dashed my ambitions when I shared them, though. "You have to have 20/20 vision, Flea." (Dad called me Flea, the abbreviated version of his nickname for me, Mini Flea. I am not sure why he called me that.)  "You could work for NASA, though."

Two years later, fifth grade math class demonstrated to me and everyone else that I didn't have the computational skills to be a NASA engineer either. (Fractions were my downfall, which, now that I think about it, is probably why I adore prime numbers.) An avid reader from an early age, I discovered Robert Heinlein, Issac Asimov, and Arthur C. Clarke and immersed myself in books that took me to the moon and beyond. Growing up and as an adult, I watched every space shuttle launch and landing, even the horrible ones that made me cry for days. I still follow the arc of the International Space Station across the sky whenever it circles my way. (That Russia now holds the keys to our only space transportation makes me sad, but at the same time, I'm glad humans are still getting up there. We learn so much when we look upward, away from ourselves, and at the wider cosmos.)

I've been to NASA Langley at Langley AFB in Hampton, Virginia. I grew up in that area, and Dad, who had been in the Navy, took Sis and I to see the museum they have about the early space program years. I went a second time on a school field trip. I've been to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum multiple times. Heck, I watch The Right Stuff once a year. Maybe my memory fails me, but not once in all my years of obsessing about America's space program do I recall any mention of Katherine Johnson, Mary Jackson, or Dorothy Vaughan. Now that I know their names, I am irked that I did not learn them in a history class at sometime in my substantial education.

I know why I never studied them in school. They were women. They were black. The white men who wrote the text books were particular about who got credit for what, so white men got all the credit. I could climb my soapbox and vent my aggravation about this fact, but I won't today. It would be off-topic.

This evening, I did some fact-checking on the details presented in the excellent movie about these women, Hidden Figures, which I saw earlier today. The parts that impressed me most about Katherine, Mary and Dorothy are, by and large, true. They were brilliant human computers assigned to duties in NASA that made the Mercury, Apollo, and shuttle programs successful. They should have been in my high school history books. I realize (like The Right Stuff) it's a movie, not documentary, but their contributions didn't deserve to be hidden by history, and I am glad they are finally getting the attention they have earned.

Go see Hidden Figures if you can. Take your daughters and your sons. Everyone should know the names of these incredible women.

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