Fascinating true story of the black female mathematicians who filled in for men at Langley Aeronautical Laboratory in World War II and went on to be part of the backbone of NASA. Before 1946, a “computer” was strictly a job title – the person who computes. When ENIAC came on line, it was called an “electronic computer”, to distinguish it from “human” computers.
Once President Roosevelt issued an executive order requiring that federal jobs be open to African-Americans, the managers at Langley were able to hire female math majors from the historically black colleges. Shetterly follows the lives of three of these women, Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Goble Johnson, the most famous of the three. The black women computers eventually made progress as NASA was created. Many of them became engineers, wrote research papers, and contributed high level work to the math of suborbital flights, orbital flights, and the moon landing. Katherine Johnson was especially important in that, as a near-genius mathematician. She helped put together all of the calculations for the sub-orbital flight, single-handedly worked-out the calculations for John Glenn’s takeoff and entry, and was instrumental in developing the software for the moon landing. It’s a great story and the basis for the movie *Hidden Figures.*