Not teaching the youth about Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson at school should be made criminal.
These black female trailblazers worked tirelessly behind the scenes in the US space programme.
Although the women were doing the same work as their white counterparts, they were kept out of sight in their own separate office in the West Area of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia,.
A sign above the women’s office read “Colored Computing”, and even the canteen was segregated.
Their story was eventually told in Margot Lee Shetterly’s book “Hidden Figures.”
Then last year the movie of the same name gave them the widespread recognition they deserve.
The Oscar nominated film starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae beat Oscar favourite La La Land to the US box office top spot.
#1. Katherine Johnson played by Taraji P. Henson
Katherine Johnson began working at NASA in the 1950s.
They used her brilliant mathematical brain to check the complex trajectory calculations made by a computer before launching the Friendship 7 spacecraft in 1962.
Johnson, who was born and raised in West Virginia, says she’s always had an obsessive fascination with numbers.
“I counted everything. I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed … anything that could be counted, I did.”
While many of her classmates were unable to complete their educations because of needing to help their families, Johnson was able to learn as much as her heart desired thanks to her incredible gift.
She was ready to enter high school by the age of 10. She then graduated from West Virginia State College at 18.
She continued to work at NASA until 1986 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2015.
#2. Dorothy Vaughan played by Octavia Spencer
Dorothy Vaughan became NASA’s first Black manager. She was born in 1910 in Kansas City, Missouri.
She excelled in school and graduated from Wilberforce University in Ohio in 1926.
She left her teaching post during World War II to work at NASA.
Taking the opportunity of a lifetime, even though she believed it would be temporary, she was asked to stay on to lead the West Area Computing Unit.
She headed the division for 9 years, from 1949 until 1958.
She continued to use her incredible skills and integrated a computer division.
She became an expert programmer, contributing to the Scout Launch Vehicle Program before retiring in 1971.
She died in 2008 leaving behind an impressive legacy.
#3. Mary Jackson played by Janelle Monae
Mary Jackson was NASA’s first Black female engineer.
Born in Virginia in 1921, she was a gifted and extraordinary scientist who worked closely with Johnson and Vaughan.
In the 1950s, she experimented with processing data from wind tunnels and flights.
Eventually, she joined a training program that would allow her to earn a promotion from mathematician to engineer.
After 34 years, Jackson took a job in NASA’s Equal Opportunity office, making changes to benefit female workers until her retirement in 1985.
She died in 2005.