California Educator

November / December 2016

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given to people who have made an outstanding contri- bution to flight safety and success. Johnson had graduated from college by the time she was 19 (as had Dorothy Vaughan). Johnson's mother had been a teacher, and her daughter followed in her footsteps, teaching high school math for seven years. She married and had children. In the early 1950s, after her husband died, she took a job at NACA, having heard about an opening through a family connection. Hundreds of African American human computers had started working for NACA in 1941, after President Franklin D. Roosevelt, under pressure from labor and civil rights leaders such as A. Philip Randolph, signed Executive Order 8802 prohibiting racial discrimination in hiring in the defense industry. e female black math- ematicians were referred to as "colored computers" and were largely segregated from their white counterparts. Johnson's talent stood out. At a time when the U.S. was gearing up for the race to space, she helped com- pute the path that would get us there. By the time she retired in 1986, her computations had an impact on every mission from Mercury to the Space Shuttle. Her computations were so relied upon, in fact, that astronaut John Glenn asked that Johnson confirm the calculations of the electronic computers used in his 1962 orbit around the earth. Mar y Jackson, who died in 2005 at age 84, earned a d e g re e i n m a t h a n d p hy si c s a n d t a u g h t s c h o o l in Maryland before joining NACA in 1951. She began h er career th ere as a human comput er, but in five years was promoted to aerospace engineer after par- ticipating in a special training program . Her work l ed h er to an aly z e d at a from w in d tunn el e xp eri - ments and to understand air f low. She also worked to h elp w om en and minoriti e s in th eir care ers by advising them on pathways to advance from math- ematician to engineer. Dorothy Vaughan, who also passed away in 2005 at age 98 and had been a teacher early on, was hired by NACA in 1943. At the time, most of the African Ameri- can women in the institution never moved beyond the computer pool, but Vaughan rose to become NACA's first black manager in 1949. Johnson, Jackson, Vaughan and the other African American human computers broke multiple barriers during their time — though Johnson, for one, never thought of her actions as anything other than an effort to do her job, and do it well. " When the space program came along, I just hap- pened to be working with guys, and then they had brief ings on it," Johnson said in a 2011 int er view. "I asked permission to go. And they said, 'Well, the girls 28 Scene from the movie Hidden Figures, due out Dec. 25. It stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe as Johnson, Vaughan and Jackson, respectively.

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