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Katherine Johnson, Va. woman at center of ‘Hidden Figures,’ calls calculation ‘piece of cake’

Posted at 8:34 PM, Jan 13, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-14 21:22:27-05

Hidden FiguresHAMPTON, Va. -- It is the untold story that has been hidden in Hampton for decades.

The box office hit "Hidden Figures" highlights the black female mathematicians at NASA who's brain power helped launch the first Americans into space.

"It feels good," said 98-year-old former NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson.

Johnson, portrayed in the film by Taraji P. Henson, calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American in space.  Johnson also confirmed, by hand, the launch calculations for John Glenn, the first American to circle the globe in 1962.

"It was a piece of cake," Johnson told WTKR, joking about her legendary math skills during her time at NASA in Hampton.

Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson

Based on the book "Hidden Figures" by Margot Lee Shetterly, the movie also shines a light on the groundbreaking work of Hampton native Mary Jackson, a NASA engineer. Recording artist Janelle Monae portrays her in the film.


Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer plays mathematician Dorothy Vaughan in the box office smash.dorothy-vaughan-young

Together, these black women mathematicians broke through the racial and gender barriers of a 1960s America with the power of their brains.

"That`s what you like about math. It`s either right or it`s wrong," said Johnson of her passion for numbers.

Of the three women featured in the film, Johnson is the only one alive to see their time at NASA play out on the silver screen.

"It was all in a day's work," Johnson said.