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Space Exploration / October 12, 2016

Panel of members of the cast of the film Hidden Figures.Talented women and men have long worked together to accomplish the greatest human achievements. And yet, some individuals who have played critical roles in these achievements, notably women and people of color, are under-represented in the retelling of these stories. Unconscious bias and the tendency toward stereotyping often result in an inaccurate picture of teamwork, collaboration, and contributions. Most significantly, it limits future innovation.

Over the past two years the President has awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to pioneering technical women in space and computing: Katherine Johnson (Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Shuttle, exploration missions), Margaret Hamilton (Apollo, Skylab), and Navy Rear Admiral Grace Hopper (the “Queen of Code”). Leaders in the advertising industry are also working to correct biased depictions of women with their #SeeHer program launched during the United State of Women event in June 2016.

Hollywood too has begun correcting a long-standing impact of unconscious bias. Writers, directors, producers, and actors are beginning to surface untold stories and include characters previously left out. They are beginning to demand and create more accurate depictions of STEM depictions of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) endeavors and the people who engage in them. As actress Geena Davis has said, “If she can see it, she can be it.”

NASA astronaut Yvonne Cagle joins cast from Hidden Figures for the First Lady's remarks. (Photo credit: NASA)Last week, as part of a series of events that celebrated untold stories of women in STEM and Computer Science Education Week, the First Lady welcomed to the White House some of the cast and team behind the new film Hidden Figures. The White House Office of Science and Technology Policy also hosted a panel of notable technical and scientific women from NASA who have shaped the world and contributed to NASA's exploration of worlds formerly beyond reach.

Dr. Knatokie Ford (far left), Senior Policy Advisor in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, moderates a panel discussion with, from left to right: Director Theodore Melfi; Author Margot Lee Shetterly; Actress and singer Taraji P. Henson; Actress Octavia Spencer; Musical recording artist, actress, and model Janelle Monáe; Actor, film director, and producer Kevin Costner; and Producer Mimi Valdés. (Photo credit: NASA)

Taraji P. Henson.NASA)

Taraji P. Henson, who plays NASA’s Katherine Johnson in the film Hidden Figures, on the panel discussion shared frustration that she didn’t grow up knowing these stories. She felt not knowing these stories limited her own career choices and those of many others who didn’t realize that STEM careers were an option.(Photo credit: NASA)

The stories shared at last week’s White House event are those of contributors to extraordinary teams. Here are some of those women leaders who worked during four eras of space exploration:

Era 1: Pre-Sputnik (-1957)
Katharine and Susan Koerner Wright (Wright Family), Bessie Coleman, Grace Hopper, Hedy Lamar, the ENIAC Programmers, Amelia Earhart, Maggie Gee and Ola Mildred Rexroat of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs), and many more.

First Lady Michelle Obama speaks after a screening of the film “Hidden Figures” at the White House. (Photo credit: NASA)Era 2: First Launch-Mercury-Gemini-Apollo (1957-1970s)
Mary Sherman Morgan, Dorothy Vaughn, Katharine Johnson, Wally Funk, Jeanne Crews, Geraldyn (“Jerrie”) M. Cobb, Dorothy “Dottie” Lee, Margaret Hamilton, and many more.

Era 3: Shuttle – Hubble - Space Station (1970s-1990s)
Nancy Roman, Shannon Lucid, Mae Jemison, Margaret Rhea Seddon, Kathryn Sullivan, Peggy Whitson, Yvonne Cagle, and many more.

Era 4: Now (1990s-)
Dava Newman, Marleen Martinez Sundgaard, Eileen Collins, Adriana Ocampo, Gwynn Shotwell, Debbie Martinez, Sunita Williams, Ellen Ochoa, Julie Kramer White, and many more.

Here are some ways that you can help to improve the accuracy of history and share more stories about the incredible women in STEM:

  • Participate in edit-a-thons and team-up with others to host one! (we held our first at the White House STEM Heroes Edit-a-thon during African-American History Month in 2015).
  • Host short-film festivals on campus, in your classroom, in your organization, or at home (White House Office of Science Technology Policy hosted“ STEM on the Silver Screen” at the White House in 2014 and the National Archives hosted their 2106 McGowan Forum with short films and a conversation on “Women in Leadership: From the Computer Age to the Digital Age”).
  • Share stories of STEM and other heroes on social media using the hashtags #MissingHistory, #HiddenFigures, and #GalaxyofWomen.
  • Remember to include all of the key players when telling stories about STEM achievements.
Bessie Coleman Nancy Roman,

Source: obamawhitehouse.archives.gov