‘Hidden Figures’ inspires look back at prized NASA photos

By Andi Russell The (Fredericksburg) Free Lance-Star

FREDERICKSBURG — Robert Miller recently enjoyed a day at the movies, where he watched “Hidden Figures,” a hit film based on the true story of three black women who made significant contributions to the space program in the early 1960s.

The film reminded the Fredericksburg resident of his late aunt, Edna Nordin, who worked for NASA at its public affairs office in Washington during that era. Every couple of months, the D.C. resident would send her young nephew an official publicity photograph of the astronauts involved with Project Mercury.

“Everybody wanted to be an astronaut,” Miller said. “[The space program] was a huge deal, something that brought the whole country together.”

Project Mercury was the country’s first man-in-space program and introduced the world to Alan Shepard, John Glenn and the rest of the nation’s first astronauts. Miller’s aunt, who worked as a secretary, would greet the men when they came in and sometimes joke around with them, he said.

“I thought [the photos] were awesome. It was just the fact that I had an aunt who had such access and firsthand knowledge and friendships with these astronauts,” Miller said. “At that age, I thought it was unbelievable that I had that kind of connection.”

Miller remembers carefully pinning each of his prized NASA photographs in a display case at Fredericksburg’s Maury Elementary School, so he could share and talk about the images with his classmates. Newer photos would replace the older ones as his aunt continued to gift them, sometimes via mail and sometimes in person.

Many of the photos are now carefully arranged in a special album Nordin gave her nephew when he was a teenager. The album’s cover is emblazoned with NASA’s official seal, as well as his aunt’s name, in gold, serif lettering.

Nordin had already retired from NASA in 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. She died in 2006.

Inspired by the film, Miller decided to share the photos with The Free Lance–Star. Some of the images were published in Town & County in 1998, during Miller’s tenure in advertising management at the newspaper.

Miller highly recommends “Hidden Figures,” which is still playing at Roanoke-area theaters, including Valley View Grande 16, New River Valley Stadium 14, The Grandin Theatre and Carmike 10 at Tanglewood. The critically acclaimed film is directed by Theodore Melfi and stars Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae and Kevin Costner.

“It’s an awesome movie. I think that it gives all of us an opportunity to really get the truth behind what the African–American community contributed to the space program,” Miller said. “It really grabs you from the very beginning and takes you all the way through. … These women were superior. Black women could do what the white men could not: let these people go to space and come back alive.

“It’s a slice of history that makes you sit and think.”

Image Courtesy of Robert Miller

Dr. Wernher von Braun (far right), director of the U.S. Army Ballistic Missile Agency’s Development Operations Division, briefs the original Mercury astronauts (from left) Gus Grissom, Walter Schirra, Alan Shepard, John Glenn, Scott Carpenter, Gordon Cooper and Donald Slayton.


Published on roanoke.com