Friday, 10 February 2017

Still Crashing Around My Brain

Have you heard about NASA's mission to Mars, planned to take place in the 2030s? Yes, probably everyone but me has been aware of it since the announcement in October of 2015. Honestly, this information only penetrated my thick skull recently when I saw a headline on MSN or some such place. Here's a link to the NASA website that will give you an overview, if you're interested, or if you've had your head in the sand like I have for the past couple of years.

If you are of a certain age, you will probably remember the Apollo missions and even exactly where you were as you watched the first moon landing in 1969. While that was an exciting moment, I was just twelve years old then. In the years (many, many years) since then, I lost interest in space exploration as I realized how much money it costs to pursue it and how many more pressing problems we face right here on Earth, problems that could be helped with that money if it were directed the right way.

But then a couple of years ago I was tipped off to the story of Elon Musk, the incredibly talented and hard-working man who has brought the world Paypal, Tesla, and SpaceX, among other achievements, and since then I've kept one ear to the ground, so to speak, for developments in both space travel and anything else Musk decides to pursue. (For a good read about his life and accomplishments to date, start here with Part 1 of a four-part series of posts by blogger Tim Urban at Wait But Why.)

In the midst of Christmas shopping a couple of months ago, I happened upon a book that looked interesting and decided I would buy it for myself because if I put it on my wish list and then waited for it to show up in my Christmas stocking it might be several years before I got to read it. The book is  Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly, and as the cover states, it relates "the American dream and the untold story of the black women mathematicians who helped win the space race."

This was a book well worth the time and effort it took to read. I found it a bit heavy on the science behind the space program, and had to read it at a slower pace than usual, only one chapter a day, in order to absorb the technical aspects. But the reward for me was being able - for the first time in my life - to understand, even at a basic level, how the human race was able to launch itself from Earth and end up on another heavenly body, which, if you think about it, is pretty darn amazing.

That was only a part of the story. The other part, equally fascinating, was the huge contribution made by the ladies mentioned above, as mathematicians, or "computers" as they were called, in the age before computers as we understand that word today.

I was thrilled and awed by these women. They brought so much talent, brains, determination, ambition, and class to the space program. I think part of my awe stems from the fact that math is not something I've ever enjoyed, so to read about women who excelled at it was a whole new world for me. Add to that the fact that these were black women at a time in history when segregation was the law in southern states and de facto in northern states, causing widespread educational, social and economic disadvantages for all blacks, and you have an inspirational book indeed.

If you have the chance to read this book, I would highly recommend it. This is the closest I've come to writing a book review and it may be the last as well as the first, but I feel compelled to share my praise for the author and the knowledge that her book makes available to the average reader - the knowledge of both the contributions of these women and how the space program put humans on the moon.

Footnote: I've read that the film based on the book was good but not great. Has anyone seen it? If so, did you read the book also? How do they compare?






25 comments:

  1. I have the book on my Kindle. Will let you know. Still coughing a bit here...

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    1. Your virus is really hanging on for dear life, isn't it? I hope you like the book, although everyone's preferences vary. Do you like your Kindle?

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  2. I thought my husband saw the movie but I'm not for sure. I remember these women so I want to say yes that he saw the film. But I only saw bits and bobs as I was passing through.

    Happy Weekend.

    PS: The pantry found a home. I'm over the moon.

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    1. I'll have to check out your blog to see where your pantry ended up!

      I'd like to see the movie but don't want to be disappointed :)

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    2. What's wrong with being disappointed? Or simply, the book you may enjoy better, but you might also enjoy some of the acting and overall message of the movie.

      Pantry got the door removed and ended up in the tub. Now with bathroom-like items on it, and we're enjoying the space. Excited to extract the tub, soon.

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    3. I was thinking the same thing - I'd probably get a lot from the movie even if it's not how *I* would have done it :)

      Excellent progress at your house! You are doing so well. I am not very motivated but I've shredded a little, sewed a little, and cleaned a little. Baby steps!

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  3. How come the black women on the book cover look rather like white women?...Even so, it sounds like a fascinating story and well done to Margot Lee Shetterly for conveying it to the world when it could so easily have been lost in time.

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    1. I think I enlarged the picture too much, YP. I've gone back in and reduced it a bit. I knew it was blurry, too, and that's fixed now. You're right, the story might never have been told. It went this long without seeing the light of day.

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    2. I have often noticed how, in past film/TV/advertising depictions of black women they frequently appear in white women's garb with white women's hairstyles and with skin that is quite light in colour.

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    3. There is a wide range of skin colour but anyone with any African American heritage was treated the same - shunned by many whites and segregated by law and by custom. The book tells how these women had to work much harder than the men or the white women simply because of their heritage. They had to attire themselves more smartly, conduct themselves more professionally, work harder and ignore the sting and unfairness of on-the-job segregation just to be accepted, never mind lauded or promoted. There are no photographs in the book, but I'd guess the depiction in the movie could be quite accurate.

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  4. I know of this story and will probably read it. Nothing is sexier than a brilliant woman. The fact that their talent was recognized and needed is amazing considering the times. I know two women involved in the aerospace industry. One is retired and one was my travel buddy on my last trip to Europe. One is black and one is white. Both wonderful women.

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    1. Yep, these ladies were instrumental in the whole space program at a time when their only other career choice, as brilliant mathematicians, was teaching in segregated schools.

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  5. I was eight when they landed on the moon, right in the sweet spot of being interested in rockets.
    These days, for level-headed enthusiasm about space travel and Mars, I really like Neil deGrasse Tyson. I tried to get one of his Daily Show appearances, but my internet service isn't working right, so I got this one instead. It's not as entertaining, but it still covers the subject well:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BesDKCOjWkQ

    (I hope that link works, I'm having trouble with it. It's supposed to go to a Foreign Affairs interview with him titled "Neil deGrasse Tyson on Space Exploration.")

    -Doug in Oakland

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    1. I'll check into the Daily Show appearance as well as the link you gave there, Doug. Thanks! You always have an interesting tidbit on every topic. When are you starting your blog?? :)

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  6. I didn't know about this amazing story until I saw the movie trailer. All in all, it's pretty darn cool. Glad you liked the book and thanks for sharing. Mrs. Shife is always looking for something good to read. I will probably just watch the movie because I don't read a lot of books, which isn't something to be proud of but it is what it is.

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    1. Then you can compare notes with Mrs Shife and report back :)

      Seriously, I don't know whether to see the movie or not. I don't want to find out they ruined the story in the film. I guess I won't know until I see it.

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  7. They'll get the credit they deserve.

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    1. This has been a bestseller in the U.S. but I think it should be required reading in high schools around the globe.

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    2. Or maybe college, because it's a bit of a hard read for high school :)

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  8. Hi Jenny-I didn't know there was a space program to visit Mars. I saw the previews of the movie, but have not seen it. I'd like to. Maybe I'll just get the book instead, since you liked it so much.

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    1. As I said, the book isn't a quick read, but it's a bit of a complex subject, and it was thoroughly researched and there is a lot of detail that added to my understanding of both the race issue and the space flights issue. I hope you get a chance to either read it or see the movie. I'm not a movie-goer but I'd consider it for this one.

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  9. I didn't know there is a book! I'll have to read it first before I even consider watching the movie. That's what us book addicts do :)

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    1. Yes! Always the book first! And sometimes the book *only* :)

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  10. I didn't know there was a book! What an interesting review you wrote - I think I might try to read it. I heard the movie was great, actually. I would love to see it - but man, in my experience, whichever I consume first is the one I love more; hard to think of a book and movie of the same where I loved both of them.

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    1. For myself, I'm glad I read the book first, because it may have been harder to keep at it if I already knew how things turned out. And the level of detail in the book, which is one of the reasons it was a long read, is also the thing I appreciated most by the time I finished it. Either way, this story needs to get to as many people as possible, whether that's by book or by film! I hope you enjoy whichever you end up with.

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