NASA has opened its new computer research center named for a Black woman who was the focus of the blockbuster Hollywood film “Hidden Figures.” The Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility (CRF) opened Friday, NASA announced in a press release.
Johnson, 99, broke both the gender and color barrier at NASA as a mathematical whiz who helped calculate the rocket trajectory to help Alan Shepherd to become the first American to go to space.
“You have been a trailblazer,” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe told Katherine Johnson during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the CRF in Hampton, Virginia. “When I think of Virginia and the history of what we’ve gone through … you’re at the top of that list.”
That’s high praise considering that Hampton was one of the multiple landing spots in Virginia where enslaved Africans were taken as part of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.
It took $23 million to build the 37,000-square foot facility that was expected to house state of the art computer systems to crunch data and offer expert analysis to help NASA further research space and space travel.
NASA has described Johnson as a “human computer” at a time when the machines were at a premium beginning when she first started working for the space agency in 1953. President Barack Obama awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
“Hidden Figures” was released earlier this year and raked in more tan $200 million around the world, beating out a slew of major movie studio action films offerings, according to Forbes.
Since its release, Johnson has been on a victory lap of sorts, including celebrating her 99th birthday with a trip to the spa in August and celebrating the announcement that “Hidden Figures” would be adapted into a picture book for children.
During Friday’s ceremony, Johnson said never in her wildest dreams could she imagine her life would take this course.
“Little did I think it would go this far,” she said.