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Hello again parents, teachers and students!
Did you get a chance to see William Shatner, aka Captain Kirk of TV’s “Star Trek” recently go up into space? How cool was that?
Well, a lot of people behind the scenes helped to make that rocket launch happen. And it’s done with lots of computers and technology.
But guess what? There was a time not long ago when computers didn’t exist. That’s right, people had to do a lot of things, including math, by hand. And that included NASA. So what did people or NASA do?
Well, sixth-grade students in Petaluma, California, interviewed author and professor Duchess Harris about her book “Hidden Heroes: The Human Computers of NASA”. Professor Harris wrote the book for students to understand what all is involved in getting astronauts into space and home again.
Harris’ grandmother was a “human computer” who worked with NASA.
In this episode, Harris introduces the concept of human computers before computers existed to students and shares how she became inspired to be a writer.
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- When Harris was researching for her book “Hidden Heroes” on the grounds of NASA, she worked alongside the author of the book “Hidden Figures,” by Margot Lee Shetterly. Harris wanted to write a book for students while the previous book is focused on educating adults. “Hidden Figures” was made into a movie in 2016 with Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monae in roles of human computers.
- Harris’ grandmother worked at NASA from 1943-1966 for 23 years as a human computer. Harris grew up hearing stories about her grandmother, who passed away two years before she was born.
- Human computers were hired by NASA to create the calculations to help astronauts travel to the moon and, more importantly, the calculations to have them return to earth. Human computers - mathematical equations on pencil and paper is computation. There was computation by people before there was computation by computers.
- NASA was originally NACA, National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, founded in 1915, shortly after the Wright Brothers flew their first plane. The focus was originally about aeronautics. It is probably hard to believe that we didn’t always have planes. This was at the beginning of that kind of flight. No one was thinking of space early on. They didn’t start thinking of space until 1958, when NASA was created, NACA was rolled into NASA.
Check out the full interview below!
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