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Granddaughter Of NASA 'Human Computer' To Speak In San Diego

This picture shows the Atlas rocket and the newly-named Mercury spacecraft called Friendship 7 blasting off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, February 20, 1962.
Associated Press
This picture shows the Atlas rocket and the newly-named Mercury spacecraft called Friendship 7 blasting off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, February 20, 1962.
Granddaughter Of NASA ‘Human Computer’ To Speak In San Diego
Granddaughter Of NASA 'Human Computer' To Speak In San Diego GUEST:Duchess Harris, co-author, “Hidden Human Computers: The Black Women of NASA”

>>> THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF THE HIDDEN FIGURES OF THE NASA SPACE PROGRAM WERE HIDDEN NO MORE AFTER A MOVIE DOCUMENTING THE LIVES OF THREE AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN CALCULATORS CAME OUT. BUT THERE WERE MORE THAN THREE BLACK WOMEN WHO WORKED ON THE MATH WHICH HELPED GET NASA INTO SPACE. THE FIRST STORY OF THE GROUP WAS TOLD IN THE BOOK, HIDDEN HUMAN COMPUTERS, THE BLACK WOMEN OF NASA. AND IT IS WRITTEN FOR TEENAGE READERS. THE BOOKS CO-AUTHOR, DR. DUTCHESS HARRIS IS ALSO THE GRANDDAUGHTER OF ONE OF THE WOMEN WHO WORKED AS A HUMAN COMPUTER FOR NASA. SHE'S A PROFESSOR AND CHAIR OF AMERICAN STUDIES OF McALLISTER COLLEGE. PROFESSOR, WELCOME TO THE SHOW. >> THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME. >> MY GRANDMOTHER WAS IN THE INTERIM CLASS OF THE FIRST 11 AFRICAN-AMERICAN WOMEN WHO WERE ALLOWED TO WORK AT NASA. SHE STAYED THERE UNTIL 1966, SHE WORKED ON FRIENDSHIP SEVEN SHE DID CALCULATIONS THAT HELPED US FIGURE OUT THE TRAJECTORY TO TURN IN OUTER SPACE. >> WHEN DID YOU FIND OUT ABOUT HER CONTRIBUTIONS TO THE SPACE PROGRAM. >> I'M DIFFERENT THAN MOST AMERICANS WHO LEARN THE STORY LAST YEAR. I KNEW IT MY ENTIRE LIFE. MY GRANDMOTHER PASSED AWAY YOUNG. SHE PASSED AWAY IN 19 SEVEN -- 67. I WAS BORN IN 1969. 69 WAS ALSO THE YEAR WE GOT TO THE MOON. SO MY FAMILY TOLD ME THAT STORY OF THE GIRL THAT I WAS NAMED AFTER. SO I DIDN'T REALLY UNDERSTAND THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE UNTIL I WENT TO COLLEGE. >> I CAN'T THINK OF A TIME I DID NOT KNOW ABOUT THIS. >> THE MOVIE HIDDEN FIGURES CAME OUT IT WAS NOT KNOWN GENERALLY. WHAT DID YOU THINK OF THE FILM? >> I THINK THE STORY WAS ACCURATE FOR THE TIME.. THEY WERE COVERING STORY TAKES PLACE IN 1961, 1962 MY GRANDMOTHER WORKED WITH ALL OF THE WOMEN WHO WERE PORTRAYED IN THE MOVIE. AND SHE WAS THERE LONG BEFORE THEY WERE THERE. SO SHE GOT TO NASA 10 YEARS BEFORE CATHERINE JOHNSON DID SOMETIMES THEY WORK FROM 3 PM UNTIL 11 PM. >> SO YOU ARE NOT ONLY FAMILIAR WITH THE ENTIRETY OF WHAT WENT ON IN NASA, YOU ARE ACTUALLY FAMILIAR WITH THE STORIES OF THE WOMEN WHO WERE PRETRADE WHAT WAS HAPPENING LOCALLY ALSO WAS THAT ROOSEVELT SIGNED EXECUTIVE ORDER 8802 WHICH DESEGREGATED FEDERAL JOBS. SO THAT GAVE US AN OPPORTUNITY FOR AFRICAN-AMERICANS TO WORK THERE. AND THEN THERE WAS ALSO NEED, BECAUSE IT WAS WARTIME. >> HOW ELSE IS YOUR BOOK HIDDEN HUMAN COMPUTERS DIFFERENT FROM THE BOOK OR MOVIE? >> IT'S REALLY DIFFERENT, SHE WANTED TO WRITE A BOOK FOR ADULTS THAT WOULD JUST BE AN INFORMATIONAL TYPE BOOK THAT YOU MIGHT GET AT AN AIRPORT BOOKSHOP. I WANTED TO WRITE A BOOK FOR YOUNGER PEOPLE THAT INCLUDED A CURRICULUM READ AND SO MARGO IS ALSO FROM THE VIRGINIA AREA. HER BOOK, JUST FOCUSES ON THE VIRGINIA NASA, THERE ARE ACTUALLY 10 NASA'S AND I TOUCH UPON ALL OF THEM. >> WHAT KIND OF CURRICULUM IS INCLUDED IN THE BOOK? >> I HAVE A DIGITAL ARCHIVE AND IF PEOPLE GO INTO ANY KIND OF SEARCH ENGINE, AND THEY SEARCH FOR HUMAN COMPUTERS AND THEN, AND McALLISTER IT WILL POP UP. IT HAS THREE LESSON PLANS ON IT, THERE ARE VIDEOTAPES ON IT. THERE ARE ALSO A BLUEPRINT THAT YOU FIND A DINING ROOM THAT THE WOMEN AID IN WHEN IT WAS SEGREGATED. AND THEY ARE ALSO JUST DOCUMENTS THAT SHOW YOU HOW THE LAND WAS LAID OUT. THERE IS A DEED TO THE LAND SO THAT STUDENTS CAN LEARN THAT NASA WAS ACTUALLY BUILT ON WHAT WAS CHESTER VILLE PLANTATION. >> NOW YOU ARE AN ACCOMPLISHED WOMAN IN YOUR OWN RIGHT AS AN ACADEMIC OR AUTHOR, A LEGAL SCHOLAR. YOU THINK YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS ARE ALSO PART OF YOUR GRANDMOTHER'S LEGACY? >> I THINK IT IS COMPLETELY A PART OF HER LEGACY. I THINK THAT A LOT OF PEOPLE WHO ARE FORTUNATE THINK THAT THEY HAVE HIT A TRIPLE. AND I TRY TO BE SAVVY ENOUGH TO UNDERSTAND I WAS BORN ON THIRD BASE. SO I THINK THE YOU KNOW I'M IN MY LATE 40s, I'M AFRICAN-AMERICAN AND I'M THIRD-GENERATION COLLEGE-EDUCATED. IN FACT, MY GRANDMOTHER'S MOTHER WAS A SCHOOLTEACHER. THAT HAS EVERYTHING TO DO WITH WHERE I AM TODAY. I JUST DIDN'T WORK HARD AT LOTS OF OPPORTUNITIES. >> WHAT MESSAGE ARE YOU BRINGING THE AUDIENCE TONIGHT AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SAN DIEGO? >> I'M SO GLAD TO BE THERE. I WANT TO TALK TO THEM ABOUT THE VALUE OF RESEARCH. THE IMPORTANCE OF LEAVING A STORY BEHIND THAT MAY NOT HAVE BEEN TAUGHT TO YOU. AND ALSO, WHAT IT MEANS TO THINK ABOUT WOMEN IN STEM, PEOPLE OF COLOR IN STEM AND JUST THE POLITICS OF POSSIBILITY FOR HAVING A PROFESSION THAT YOU MIGHT NOT OF THOUGHT ABOUT. >> I'VE BEEN SPEAKING WITH DUTCHESS HARRIS, CO-AUTHOR OF HIDDEN HUMAN COMPUTERS, THE BLACK WOMEN OF NASA. THANK YOU SO MUCH. >> THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME. >> DUTCHESS HARRIS WILL BE SHARING STORIES FROM HER BOOK TONIGHT AT 7 PM AT THE COPLAN LIBRARY AT MOTHER ROSALIE HILL READING ROOM AT THE UNIVERSITY OF SAN DIEGO.

The contributions of the black women of NASA's space program were hidden no more after the movie, "Hidden Figures," documenting the lives of three of the women came out last year. But there were more than three black women who worked on the math which helped get astronaut John Glenn into orbit.

RELATED: ‘Hidden Figures’ Reveals Work Of African-American Women At NASA In 1960s

The full story of the group is told in the book, “Hidden Human Computers: The Black Women of NASA.” The book’s co-author, Duchess Harris, is the granddaughter of Miriam Mann, one of the women who worked as a human computer at the NASA Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Her story was not depicted in the film.

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"My grandmother of course had a different story because she was there during World War II," Harris said. "The women actually got there because Franklin Delano Roosevelt was president and we went to war and most of the employees at NASA were men and they were deployed. That was happening globally. What was happening locally was that Roosevelt signed executive order 8802 which desegregated federal jobs."

Harris, a professor and chair of American studies at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, wrote "Hidden Human Computers" for young adults. The book also includes a curriculum about NASA's human computers and a website where visitors can view videos, lesson plans and even a blueprint of the segregated dining room where the woman ate.

Duchess Harris joins Midday Edition Monday with more on her grandmother's life and legacy. She will be sharing stories from her book Monday at 7 p.m. at the Copley Library's Mother Rosalie Hill Reading Room at the University of San Diego.

Corrected: July 12, 2024 at 3:56 AM PDT
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Astronaut John Glenn had traveled to the moon and back. Glenn was the first American to orbit Earth. He did not travel to the moon.