How three black women helped send John Glenn into orbit
A new film, Hidden Figures, tells the story of the maths wizards who Nasa relied on
When John Glenn was waiting to be fired into orbit aboard Friendship 7 in 1962, there was one person he trusted with the complex trajectory calculations required to bring him down safely from his orbital spaceflight: Katherine Johnson, an African-American mathematician who worked in Nasa’s segregated west area computers division.
“Get the girl, check the numbers,” Glenn said before boarding the rocket. “If she says they’re good, I’m good to go.”
Johnson was one of three female African-American mathematicians known as the “computers in skirts” who worked on the Redstone, Mercury and Apollo space programmes for Nasa. Now, thanks to an award-tipped movie, Johnson, Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan are about to become more widely celebrated.
The film, Hidden Figures, stars Taraji P Henson of TV series Empire, soul singer and actress Janelle Monáe, Octavia Spencer from The Help movie, and Academy Award winner Kevin Costner.