"Hidden Figures" - Screening at UTD
For further reading after seeing the film Hidden Figures
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly. The book on which the film was based goes further in telling the story not just of the three principal characters of the film, but of many of the other “colored computers” at NACA and NASA and their contributions to aeronautics and the space race from World War II to Apollo 11.
Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt. This book tells the story of the women computers and mathematicians at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and their contributions to aerospace research and the space program from the 1940s to 2000.
Rocket Girl by George D. Morgan. A biography of Mary Sherman Morgan who was the first female rocket engineer. A trained chemist, she worked for North American Aviation where she played a key role in developing techniques that produced the successful rocket launches that ultimately orbited the first US satellite, Explorer 1.
The Mercury 13 by Martha Ackmann. One of the little-known pieces of NASA history was that at the same time NASA selected the first seven Mercury astronauts in the early 1960s, they quietly tested women pilots as possible astronaut candidates. Thirteen were selected, but sadly, the program was cancelled and its history ignored.
The Innovators by Walter Isaacson. In this sweeping history of computers, Issacson highlights the contribution of Ada Lovelace in the nineteenth century and the six women mathematicians who wrote the first computer programs for the ENIAC computer in the 1940s. (See the next two entries.)
The ENIAC Programmers Project by Kathy Kleiman. Although there isn’t a book (yet!) about them, computer scientist and historian Kathy Kleiman has publicized the key role in the development of modern computer science played by the women ENIAC programmers with a project and a documentary about their work. See: http://eniacprogrammers.org
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua. In the nineteen century the mathematician Charles Babbage dreamed of building an “analytical engine”, a steam-powered, gear-driven computer. He was not able to turn his design into reality but his colleague, the brilliant Ada Lovelace, saw the power in his idea and popularized it by writing papers explaining it to the scientific community. In the process she wrote the first computing algorithm/program. Sadly she died in her early 30s. This graphic novel tells not just the real story of her life, but then imagines a series of fun steampunk adventures that might have happened had she lived and Babbage succeeded in building a working “engine”.
The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan. During World War II Oak Ridge, Tennessee was a government-run industrial city processing and refining uranium for the then-secret atomic bomb. As with a lot of the wartime effort, much of the labor force there were women. This book is an oral history profiling ten of the women there, from a janitor to an engineer, about the contributions they made, their experiences, and the discrimination (both racism and sexism) they faced.
The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel and Miss Leavitt’s Stars by George Johnson. From the 1880s through the 1930s a small army of women computers labored at the Harvard Observatory in Cambridge, Massachusetts to tease the secrets of the stars from the glass photographic plates of the sky taken through telescopes. Sobel’s book covers their whole history as they create the modern spectral classification of the stars, develop the methods for determining the distances to the stars that ultimately showed the true size of the Universe and Hubble’s discovery of the expansion of the Universe, to finally Cecilia Payne’s discovery that most of the Universe was made of hydrogen and helium. Johnson’s book focuses on one of the “Harvard computers”, Henrietta Leavitt, and her discovery of the period-luminosity relation of Cepheid variable stars which ultimately paved the way to determining the true size and scale of the Universe.
When Computers Were Human by David Alan Grier. A scholarly book (Princeton University Press) tracing the history of human computers and their contribution to scientific research from seventeenth century and the computation of the orbit of Halley’s comet through the mid-twentieth century, along the way covering many of the subjects and people listed above.
Dr Marc Hairston, Center for Space Sciences
Dr Mary Urquhart, Science/Mathematics Education