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?