Taraji P. Henson stars as space scientist Katherine Johnson.
Mathematician and NASA scientist Katherine Johnson isn't exactly a household name, but that may soon change.
Johnson, best known for her role calculating the trajectories for NASA's Mercury and Apollo missions by hand — including the moon landing — is one of the greatest American minds of all time.
And to think you may not have ever even heard about her.
Johnson's space science career began in 1953 at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, NASA's predecessor) at Langley Research Center's Guidance and Navigation Department. Johnson's title: computer. (Seriously, before computers were computers, really super-smart people like Johnson were computers.) Neat, right?
Now 97, Johnson is finally getting some much-deserved credit for her work, including an upcoming movie based on her life.
In 2015, President Obama awarded Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor.
And more than 10,000 people have signed on in support of making a "Women of NASA" Lego set featuring Johnson, Sally Ride, Mae Jemison, Margaret Hamilton, and Nancy Roman.
#TBT: Mathematician and space scientist Katherine Johnson as a young woman. https://t.co/tsUaseJ9K6 https://t.co/sswoKL8bzn— Lego Women of NASA (@Lego Women of NASA) 1470934863
But the biggest boost to Johnson's name recognition is likely to come from "Hidden Figures," a movie starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe as Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson, respectively. The film is based on the book of the same name, written by Margot Lee Shetterly.
Representation matters. History books can only tell part of the story, and they often leave out important characters.
Though jobs in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are some of the fastest-growing career paths in the U.S., women make up just 14% of engineers nationwide.
While a single movie highlighting the lives of women of color working in a STEM field isn't likely to eliminate the representation gap, girls around the country will at least be made aware that yes, they can be mathematicians or engineers or scientists if they want to. At the very least, "Hidden Figures" might finally make Katherine Johnson the household name she always should have been.