Brandon Royal’s photo of Neil deGrasse Tyson and Janelle Monae in Neil’s office at the Hayden Planetarium.
Brandon Royal’s photo of Neil deGrasse Tyson and Janelle Monae in Neil’s office at the Hayden Planetarium.

Hidden Figures, with Margot Lee Shetterly and Janelle Monáe

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Janelle Monáe. Photo Credit: Brandon Royal.

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About This Episode

We do it together or we don’t do it at all – that’s the motto. On this episode of StarTalk Radio, we are uncovering the story of the Hidden Figures responsible for getting the United States to the Moon. Neil deGrasse Tyson sits down with Margot Lee Shetterly, author of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race, and Janelle Monáe, star of the film Hidden Figures, to learn more about the story of the African-American women (Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson) who launched us into space. In-studio, Neil is joined by comic co-host Sasheer Zamata and Bill Barry, NASA Chief Historian to help provide context for the monumental influence these women had on our aerospace history. You’ll hear Janelle explain what drew her to the role of Mary Jackson and how she originally thought the story was fiction. Margot and Bill provide history on how opportunities at NASA arose for these women during the Jim Crow era. Discover how they were able to maintain their positions after the war even when society was pushing them to head home. Investigate the role of the human computer and how important it was to successful flights. Bill shares some insight on the making of the film Hidden Figures and his role as a consultant, and explains why it’s taken so long for these women to get their proper acknowledgement. We answer fan-submitted Cosmic Queries on human and computer navigation during the Apollo missions, the difficulties of calculating the Moon landing, and what science the astronauts did while they were on the Moon. Tracy Drain, NASA systems engineer, stops by to explain what a systems engineer does and to tell us her favorite mission that she’s worked on so far in her career. Bill tells us about NACA – the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics – which was a predecessor to NASA. You’ll learn about NASA’s first search for astronauts, which involved circus performers and mountain climbers, before President Eisenhower stepped in to suggest using military pilots. Bill Nye the Science Guy joins from the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum to tell us about the rocket science that went into the early launches. Lastly, Margot urges us to never let fear stomp out creativity or imagination and Neil tells us why we shouldn’t be surprised that science brought a divided country together.   

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: Hidden Figures, with Margot Lee Shetterly and Janelle Monáe.

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