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NASA space scientist, and mathematician Katherine Johnson poses for a portrait at work at NASA Langley Research Center in 1980 in Hampton, Virginia. (NASA/Donaldson Collection/Getty Images)

Paying tribute

NASA dedicates building to Katherine Johnson, mathematician and ‘Hidden Figures’ hero

By WITW Staff on September 25, 2017

On Friday, NASA officially opened its new Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility, which was named in honor of a pioneering African American mathematician who rose to fame late in life thanks to the film Hidden Figures.

As The Guardian reports, NASA hired Johnson as part of a team of “human computers” in the 1950s. She and her colleagues, all of whom were black, were tasked with producing calculations for the 1961 flight of Alan Shepard, the first American in space. Johnson would later help confirm computer calculations for John Glenn’s 1962 orbit, and for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon.

Her work was little-known to the public until 2017, when Taraji P Henson played Johnson in Hidden Figures. The movie, based on a book by Margot Lee Shetterly, followed the stories of Johnson and two other African American women — Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson — as they worked to help launch Glenn into space.

The new, 37,000-square foot facility is devoted to advancing “Langley’s capabilities in modeling and simulation, big data and analysis,” according to a NASA press release. Johnson, now 99 years old, attended the ribbon cutting ceremony for the building.

In a video interview before the ceremony, Johnson revealed her thoughts on having a NASA facility named in her honor

“You want my honest answer? I think they’re crazy,” she said with a chuckle. “I was excited at something new, always liked something new, but give credit to everybody who helped. I didn’t do anything alone but try to go to the root of the question and succeeded there.”

Read more at The Guardian.

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