The 20th Century Fox movie, which is due in theaters in January, tells the story of the African mathematician Katherine Johnson (played by Taraji P. Henson) and two of her colleagues, Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monåe, in her debut role). It is based on a non-fiction book of the same name, which will be published Sept. 6.
"To send a man to the moon," Dame Judy Densch narrates as Disney guests pass by the woman in the miniskirt and lab coat, "we had to invent a new language, spoken not by man, but by computers."
But Johnson and her colleagues were known as "human computers." Johnson, who was a physicist and a space scientist as well as a mathematician, calculated the trajectories for Project Mercury and the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon. And when Apollo 13 was aborted, her work helped return the crew safely to earth.
Johnson, now 97, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. And this year, NASA dedicated the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility at its Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.
I'm sorry I didn't know the story of Johnson and the army of "human computers" who blazed a trail for black female scientists. But I'm glad I know it now and can help spread the word.
I don't know if Katherine Johnson really was the inspiration for the Spaceship Earth figure or not, but from now on, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
If you haven't seen it, here's the official trailer for "Hidden Figures":