More than 50 years after Katherine Johnson first helped send astronauts into space, the once “hidden figure” is hidden no more at NASA.
The federal agency named a new research facility in Johnson’s honor this week. The Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia opened Friday.
Johnson was part of a group of black women mathematicians whose calculations — done by hand — were essential to NASA’s early space missions. She was memorably portrayed by Taraji P. Henson in the movie Hidden Figures last year.
“You want my honest answer? I think they’re crazy,” Johnson, now 99, said in a video message about the naming of the new research facility. “I was excited at something new, always liked something new, but give credit to everybody who helped. I didn’t do anything alone but try to go to the root of the question and succeeded there.”
Johnson cut the ribbon for the opening of the $23 million, 37,000 square foot research facility bearing her name. It consolidates five Langley data centers and more than 30 server rooms, and it will be used to enhance NASA’s efforts in modeling and simulation, big data, and analysis, NASA said in a statement.
“Today all of these things seem inevitable,” Margot Lee Shetterly, the author of the book Hidden Figures, told the Guardian. “But without her past full of diverging roads and choices that made all the difference we would not be standing on the brink of this future.”