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The #1 New York Times bestseller
The phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space. Soon to be a major motion picture starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kirsten Dunst, and Kevin Costner.
Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.
Among these problem-solvers were a group of exceptionally talented African American women, some of the brightest minds of their generation. Originally relegated to teaching math in the South’s segregated public schools, they were called into service during the labor shortages of World War II, when America’s aeronautics industry was in dire need of anyone who had the right stuff. Suddenly, these overlooked math whizzes had a shot at jobs worthy of their skills, and they answered Uncle Sam’s call, moving to Hampton, Virginia and the fascinating, high-energy world of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory.
Even as Virginia’s Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts, the women of Langley’s all-black “West Computing” group helped America achieve one of the things it desired most: a decisive victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and complete domination of the heavens.
Starting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race, Hidden Figures follows the interwoven accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden, four African American women who participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes. It chronicles their careers over nearly three decades they faced challenges, forged alliances and used their intellect to change their own lives, and their country’s future.
During 30 years and 135 missions, the U.S. space shuttle carried more crewmembers to orbit than all other launch systems, from all other countries combined, and carried more than 4.5 million pounds of payload to orbit. It was a staggering record of success. Unfortunately, it was accompanied by a tragic record of failure, with two accidents claiming the lives of 14 astronauts as well as other incidents claiming several ground personnel. But, as Richard Truly, an astronaut and NASA administrator, once said, "Flying in space is a bold business. We cannot print enough money to make it totally risk-free." This assertion was not meant as an excuse, simply a statement of fact regarding the physics of space travel and the dangers of chemical rockets.
Because it flew for 30 years, most people alive today do not remember a time when the space shuttle was not in the news. The public was enthralled, the politicians somewhat less, and the armchair critics even less so. The space shuttle was meant as a stepping-stone to broader exploration. But the funding and political will never materialized, leaving the vehicle with little meaningful work for most of its flight campaign. Nevertheless, the space shuttle launched a variety of commercial and military satellites, planetary probes to Venus and Jupiter, and three of the four NASA Great Observatories, including the pièce de résistance, the Hubble Space Telescope. Only near the end was it able to demonstrate its intended purpose, building a space station. Even that, when finished, was only a shell of what had been envisioned when the space shuttle was approved. Unfortunately, having found its stride as the primary support vehicle for the International Space Station, the White House canceled the program, leaving the United States without the ability to launch people to orbit.
All of this has left an uncertain legacy for one of the most visible engineering achievements of the 20th Century. This book is not meant to establish that legacy, but to thoroughly document the development, technology, and, to a lesser extent, the flight campaign. We will leave it to future historians to determine the ultimate worthiness of the program. What we can say for certain, though, is that it was one hell of a ride.
WHAT'S IN STICK AND RUDDER:
Stick and Rudder is the first exact analysis of the art of flying ever attempted. It has been continously in print for thirty-three years. It shows precisely what the pilot does when he flies, just how he does it, and why.
Because the basics are largely unchanging, the book therefore is applicable to large airplanes and small, old airplanes and new, and is of interest not only to the learner but also to the accomplished pilot and to the instructor himself.
When Stick and Rudder first came out, some of its contents were considered highly controversial. In recent years its formulations have become widely accepted. Pilots and flight instructors have found that the book works.
Today several excellent manuals offer the pilot accurate and valuable technical information. But Stick and Rudder remains the leading think-book on the art of flying. One thorough reading of it is the equivalent of many hours of practice.
Fatal Flight brings vividly to life the year of operation of R.101, the last great British airship--a luxury liner three and a half times the length of a 747 jet, with a spacious lounge, a dining room that seated fifty, glass-walled promenade decks, and a smoking room. The British expected R.101 to spearhead a fleet of imperial airships that would dominate the skies as British naval ships, a century earlier, had ruled the seas. The dream ended when, on its demonstration flight to India, R.101 crashed in France, tragically killing nearly all aboard.
Combining meticulous research with superb storytelling, Fatal Flight guides us from the moment the great airship emerged from its giant shed--nearly the largest building in the British Empire--to soar on its first flight, to its last fateful voyage. The full story behind R.101 shows that, although it was a failure, it was nevertheless a supremely imaginative human creation. The technical achievement of creating R.101 reveals the beauty, majesty, and, of course, the sorrow of the human experience.
The narrative follows First Officer Noel Atherstone and his crew from the ship's first test flight in 1929 to its fiery crash on October 5, 1930. It reveals in graphic detail the heroic actions of Atherstone as he battled tremendous obstacles. He fought political pressures to hurry the ship into the air, fended off Britain's most feted airship pilot, who used his influence to take command of the ship and nearly crashed it, and, a scant two months before departing for India, guided the rebuilding of the ship to correct its faulty design. After this tragic accident, Britain abandoned airships, but R.101 flew again, its scrap melted down and sold to the Zeppelin Company, who used it to create LZ 129, an airship even more mighty than R.101--and better known as the Hindenburg.
Set against the backdrop of the British Empire at the height of its power in the early twentieth century, Fatal Flight portrays an extraordinary age in technology, fueled by humankind's obsession with flight.