Hidden Figures Challenge


If you were transported back in time to the 1960’s would you be able to do the math that NASA was doing by hand?  Check someone else’s work?  Write the FORTRAN code to do it?
Earlier this week I had the chance to go with my family to see the movie Hidden Figures. There were so many great lines in the movie.  The sound track alone shot me into space.  When Euler was mentioned in the movie it really caught my attention.  I’ve been having a lot of fun with the free math problems on https://projecteuler.net lately.  I got to wondering if NASA had any sample problems reflective of what people were doing in the movie, either on paper or with a computer program that I could try with my family at home.  Khan Academy teaches Euler’s method, maybe NASA would have some type of problems along those lines.  I found a contact page on their website and got this great response back the next day.  It doesn’t seem as gritty as what you see in the movie and I would still like to put something together that had a more 1960’s feel to it.  But still, if anyone is interested in challenging yourself or your children with the math they do offer, you might enjoy checking this out:
Hi Eric, 
I’m so glad to hear you enjoyed the movie and that it’s sparked your interest in these math problems. NASA has a number of resources with stories about the computers and resources for educators, parents and others here: https://www.nasa.gov/modernfigures
This toolkit, in particular, might have what you’re looking for: https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atoms/files/modernfigures_toolkit_interactive_0.pdf
There’s a lesson available on the JPL Education website related to calculating launch windows for space travel to other planets. Not exactly the same problem as in the movie, but related and interesting nonetheless. That’s available, here: http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/edu/teach/activity/lets-go-to-mars-calculating-launch-windows/
Hope that helps! 
Kim Orr
Web Producer
JPL Education Office

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