Dorothy Vaughan1st African American Woman Mathematician at NASA
Who is Dorothy Vaughan?
Early Life and Education
Dorothy Vaughan was the first African-American woman to work as both a mathematician and a computer programmer at NASA.
Dorothy Vaughan was born on September 20th, 1910, in Kansas City, Missouri. She grew up in a segregated society and graduated from Beechurst High School at the age of 15 as the school valedictorian. After graduating, she studied math at Howard University where she received a degree in mathematics. She subsequently taught for five years at Robert Russa Moton High School in Farmville, VA. until an opportunity presented itself that would change history.
Career at NASA
In 1943, she left teaching to work at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory during the height of World War II to work as a part of a team that analyzed data from air combat missions.
She was one of a group of women selected by NASA as part of the all-black “West Area Computing” group of human computers who worked with white male mathematicians during the war and during the early days of the U.S. space program. Ms. Vaughan helped prepare calculations for the first flight of the North American X-15 rocket plane and for John Glenn’s first orbital space flight. Without her calculations, John Glenn may never have made it back to Earth. Vaughan became NASA’s first Black manager when she became the head of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA’s) segregated West Area Computing Unit in 1949. Dorothy retired in 1971, after working at Langley for 28 years.
Ms. Vaughan lived through many startling transitions during her life, from slide rules and mental math to supercomputers, and from segregated bathrooms to a fully segregated space agency where she was a department head. She was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal when President Trump signed H.R. 1396, the “Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act” into law. A moon crater was also named after her on October 16, 2019.
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