Katherine G. Johnson had the spotlight on her last year when the movie “Hidden Figures” hit theaters worldwide and gained Oscar nominations. The film told the story of Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson – three black women who shattered the racial and gender barriers at NASA in the 1960s to help advance some of the country’s biggest aerospace achievements, Huffington Post reports.
Johnson, deemed a “human computer,” attended the ribbon-cutting NASA research facility named for her on Friday. The Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility is a well-equipped, state-of-the-art, $23 million facility run out of NASA’s Langley Research Center. It will consolidate four of the agency’s data centers as part of Langley’s 20-year rehabilitation plan.
David Bowles, Langley Director, said,
We’re here to honor the legacy of one of the most admired and inspirational people ever associated with NASA. I can’t imagine a better tribute to Mrs. Johnson’s character and accomplishments than this building that will bear her name.
According to its website, “Langley scientists study the atmosphere to improve life here on Earth and to better understand the conditions planes and spacecraft fly through. Langley engineers work on technologies to make civilian and military planes safer, quieter and more efficient, while designing tomorrow’s supersonic and even hypersonic aircraft. Langley researchers analyze materials and structures to help spacecraft withstand unforgiving extraterrestrial environments.”
Johnson helped calculate the coordinates for the first human spaceflight ever, and was the first woman in the organization to get authorship credits on a research paper. Johnson computed complex analytical geometry equations that earned the respect of the dominating white men in the industry during her time.
John Glenn, the first astronaut to orbit the Earth, specifically asked that Johnson check his mission landing calculations before his launch. He didn’t trust the new computers in place, and asked engineer to “get the girl.” Glenn famously said, “If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go.”
Johnson, now 99 years old, maintains her modesty. Regarding the facility named in her honor, she said in a NASA press release, “You want my honest answer? I think they’re crazy.”