Category Archives: Women in Engineering

NASA names headquarters after ‘Hidden Figure,’ engineer Mary Jackson

NASA names headquarters after ‘Hidden Figure,’ engineer Mary Jackson 

‘Hidden Figure’ is a double pun which refers to the Black women ‘figures’ (notable persons) who contributed to the manned space program at NASA by ‘figuring’ (computing numbers). It also refers to the movie ‘Hidden Figures’ about these women.

See our earlier blog posts about these women in the blog category: women in engineering.

The women who helped put men on the moon

Article in Los Angeles Times by Molly Hennessy-Fiske, July 18, 2019, p. A1

This year is the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 astronauts landing on the Moon. Article includes stories of Frances Northcutt, Christine Darden, and Sylvia Salinas Stottlemyer.

Also see the blog post about Margaret Hamilton, another key figure.


The Civil Rights Act had just passed and the slide rule was giving way to computers when Frances “Poppy” Northcutt arrived at NASA’s Houston campus in 1965, eager to join the space race. But her job title stunned her: “computress.”

Northcutt, then 22 and fresh out of the University of Texas at Austin with a mathematics degree, soon learned that at NASA, men were engineers, women “computresses” or “human computers,” with less status and less pay.

But Northcutt persevered, and three years later, during the Apollo 8 mission, she would become the first woman to work in Mission Control. …

Happy 100th Birthday to Katherine Johnson

Happy 100th birthday to Katherine Johnson, NASA mathematician portrayed in the movie “Hidden Figures.” As shown in the movie, she proposed using Euler’s method to compute trajectories and orbits for the first US astronauts, allowing safe journeys and landings. In her honor, we will add an Euler’s method problem to homework in our intro to programming course. See her entry at Wikipedia and news articles, e.g., here and here. See our previous blog post about Katherine.

Margaret Hamilton and another approach to software development

I was interested to learn about the work of Margaret Hamilton, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom yesterday. As a young woman, she led a team that designed the flight control software for the Apollo moon landers. This period was during the early days of computer programming when software design practices were just starting to be invented. Hamilton developed a theory and methodology for “design before the fact” of fault-free and fault-tolerant, real-time software control systems. The class of systems considered are asynchronous, discrete-event systems. This includes chemical batch process scheduling and control. Our web apps simulate continuous processes. Design Before the Fact contrasts with the development strategy we use, as outlined in my last post, but we will learn from Hamilton’s work.

Also at the ceremony at the White House yesterday, Grace Hopper was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She was an early pioneer in computing, invented the first software compiler, and popularized the idea of machine-independent programming languages.

Also see the blog post about other women engineers who were key figures in the moon landings.

Women in engineering, a pioneer

“The unbelievable life of the forgotten genius [Katherine Johnson] who turned Americans’ space dreams into reality”

“Throughout her education, she says she succeeded in part because she was always asking questions — even when people tried to ignore her, her hand stayed up.”

Trailer for upcoming movie about Katherine Johnson, Hidden Figures: