About The Real Life Characters
KATHERINE JOHNSON (Played by Taraji P. Henson):
One of the brightest minds of her generation, mathematician, physicist and space
scientist, Katherine Johnson was born in West Virginia in 1918. Displaying an
early aptitude for math, she was brilliant with figures. Encouraged by her
parents and teachers, Johnson attended West Virginia State College and graduated
with highest honors.
She became the first African American woman to attend graduate school at West
Virginia University, when the state first integrated its graduate schools in
1930. Originally a teacher, Johnson was hired as a computer at NASA's Langley
Research Center in 1953. She was assigned to the Flight Research Division and
became indispensable, doing calculations for orbital trajectories on the early
Mercury flights. Johnson did trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard, the first
American in Space. Her math was instrumental to the success of the historic
Friendship 7 Mission, in which astronaut John Glenn became the first American to
orbit the earth. The early electronic IBM computer was essential to Glenn's
flight, but not reliable, so Glenn insisted that "the girl" (he meant Johnson)
manually check the numbers before his flight. The successful flight, of course,
marked a turning point in the Space Race between the United States and the
former Soviet Union. The stellar mathematician also worked on the calculations
for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon, the Space Shuttle and the Earth
Johnson has three daughters from her first marriage to James Goble, who died in
1956. Since 1959, she has been married to Colonel James Johnson. In 2015,
Katherine Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President
DOROTHY VAUGHAN (Played by Octavia Spencer):
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1910, Dorothy Vaughan was a gifted child who
excelled academically and musically. Her family relocated to West Virginia when
she was eight. Aged 15, Vaughan won a full scholarship to Wilberforce University
in Ohio. Married to Howard Vaughan, the mother of six was a schoolteacher before
joining NASA's Langley Research Center as a computer in the 40s. She was
promoted to a management position and became NASA's first black supervisor.
A fierce champion for her staff, Vaughan devoted herself to fighting for
promotions and pay raises for both black and white women computers. With the
introduction of the first electronic computers to NASA, Vaughan had the
foresight to realize that the role of the human computer would vanish.
Reinventing herself, she learned how to program the IBM, becoming proficient in
Fortran (computer programing language). Vaughan also encouraged the women in her
department to become computer programmers, in order to save their jobs. She
joined the new Analysis and Computation Division (ACD), a racially and
gender-integrated group on the frontier of electronic computing. Dorothy Vaughan
died in 2008.
MARY JACKSON (Played by Janelle Monae):
Born in Hampton Virginia in 1921, Mary Jackson graduated in math and physical
science from Hampton Institute. Married to Levi Jackson Sr., the mother of two
initially worked as teacher. A gifted mathematician, Jackson started her NASA
career as a computer. Recognized for her excellent engineering skills, Jackson
was encouraged by NASA engineer Kazimierz Czarnecki to enter a training program
that would enable her to be promoted from mathematician to engineer.
Tenacious and courageous, she petitioned to be allowed into a segregated white
high school, in order to take the college courses required for her to work
officially as a NASA engineer. Winning her fight and completing her
qualifications, Jackson went on to become NASA's first black female aerospace
engineer and is thought to be the first black female engineer in the United
States. Deeply concerned about equality for women, later in her career, Jackson
took a demotion to become a human resources manager. Among the honors she
received was an Apollo Group Achievement Award. For three decades, Jackson was
an enthusiastic Girl Scouts leader. She died in 2005.
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