NASA has launched a new website dedicated to the women, past and present, who have played a major part in advances in spaceflight.
NASA actually has a long history of supporting women in space science, though perhaps their achievements haven’t been recognized quite as well as they should have been. However, we appear to be riding a wave of recognition for women’s contribution to the space program, following on from the release of Margot Lee Shetterly’s best-selling book Hidden Figures and the soon-to-be released film of the same name.
Hidden Figures reveals the history of the “human computers”, the black female mathematicians recruited by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the precursor to NASA, in the 1940s during the labor shortages of WWII right through to the Space Race and the first Moon landing. The film concentrates on Katherine Johnson, one of the most well-known of these “computers”, who calculated the flight trajectories for Project mercury and the 1969 Apollo 11 landing that put Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon.
The achievements of Margaret Hamilton, another computer scientists who was crucial to the success of the Apollo 11 landing, were recently recognized nationally when President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom – the highest civilian award in the US – last week.
NASA’s new Modern Figures website is dedicated to these human computers as well as the women today who are continuing their legacy.
The website features biographies, interviews, galleries, projects, and missions as well as resources for teachers and educators. It celebrates the women who helped put a man on the Moon, while looking forward to the women who are going to be instrumental in putting a person – man or woman – on Mars.
At a time when fear of discrimination against women and minorities in science is a very real threat, it’s reassuring to see an agency of such prominence not only give women who might be regarded as unsung heroes the attention they deserve, but to remind us that diversity in science is what is going to keep driving us forward.
“Progress is driven by questioning our assumptions and cultural prejudices. By embracing and nurturing all the talent we have available, regardless of gender, race or other protected status,” says NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in the introductory video.
“To build a workforce as diverse as our missions, embracing diversity and inclusion is how we, as a nation, take the next giant leap in exploration.”