Meet the woman who got America into orbit in the trailer for ‘Hidden Figures’

Katherine Johnson was a guiding force behind Project Mercury. Now, a new movie wants to highlight the African-American woman's forgotten history.
By | Published: August 15, 2016 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
20th Century Fox

This week, olympians Simone Biles and Simone Manuel reminded Americans of the incredible accomplishments of our black women. In 1962, Americans were awed by the work of another black woman as astronaut John Glenn orbited the earth three times and returned. That might not have happened without the calculations of Katherine Johnson, the NASA mathematician.

Hidden Figures is an upcoming movie whose first trailer debuted today during the Rio Olympics, starring Taraji P. Henson as Johnson. The movie tells the story of how Johnson helped calculate the trajectory for Project Mercury, the mission that sent Glenn into orbit. It highlights how she helped the United States take down Russia during the space race, and how she blazed the trail for black women during an especially rough time in America’s history, both for women and for black Americans.

“They let women do some things at NASA,” Henson as Johnson says to Lt. Colonel James A. Johnson in one scene. “And it’s not because we wear skirts; it’s because we wear glasses.”

You can watch the trailer here. The movie debuts on January 13, 2017.

(Editor’s note: An upcoming issue of Astronomy will highlight a visit to the set of ‘Hidden Figures’)