Last night Bev and I watched the movie “Hidden Figures” streamed on Amazon Prime. We hardly ever go to movies and only very occasionally watch one at home.
This was a good one. The synopsis of the movies is as follows.
Three brilliant African-American women at NASA — Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe) — serve as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: the launch of astronaut John Glenn (Glen Powell) into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the Space Race and galvanized the world.
While we know that events are Hollywoodized (dramatized) for appeal and may not always be “quite” the way they really occurred, this was still a story of a historic change in our country. In 1961 when we were sending our first men into “space” being the suborbital flight of Alan Shephard, segregation laws were still in place as our nation was moving towards equal rights for all citizens. This was one of the overriding painful themes of the movie. It shows how three black women came through and helped establish equality.
“Computers” were actual people, not what we think of as the machines that do the computing. So much calculation of trajectories was done manually. One of the black women was a whiz and was able help calculate vitally needed results for the various missions. The IBM mainframes were just started to be used as a much faster way to do computations. That transition was highlighted in the movie. I remember in 1962 getting excited about learning one of the early computer languages FORTRAN that brought back memories of getting access to a Control Data mainframe as a high school project science class.
What was interesting to me was that this was all in my lifetime, when I was in junior and high school.
What was extra interesting to me was the sense of mission that NASA adopted after the Russians were beating the Americans terribly in the space race by sending the first man into space and the first man Yuri Gagarin to orbit the earth? The pep talk by actor Kevin Costner to the NASA team was inspiring. What was it the Russians had that the Americans did not. Americans had the money, equipment, and resources, yet were getting beat terribly by the Russians. Americans had big staffs, but no results in the form of a man in space. In his pep talk, he talks about sacrifice, commitment and seeing the big picture in order to succeed. It cannot be a passive, ambling effort without dedication to the greater cause. He galvanized the NASA team as they saw what they were up against (the Russians) and ultimately surpassed them in the space race.
This made me think of parallels about how we should be going about some of what we do now….