20th Century Fox
By Samantha Cooney
January 30, 2017
Samantha Cooney is the content strategy editor at TIME.

Since the release of Hidden Figures, 98-year-old Katherine Johnson — the mathematician portrayed by Taraji P. Henson in the acclaimed film — has been somewhat of a hero. But the former NASA scientist is surprised by all the attention.

“There’s nothing to it — I was just doing my job,” Johnson told the Washington Post in an interview. “They needed information and I had it, and it didn’t matter that I found it. At the time, it was just a question and an answer.”

Johnson has seen the film — which chronicles Johnson and her co-workers’ invaluable contributions to John Glenn’s mission to become the first man to orbit Earth — three times, according to the Post. She recalled that Glenn specifically asked for Johnson to work on the undertaking. “He knew I had done [the calculations] before for him, and they trusted my work. He asked me to do it, and I did it,” she said. “They never asked me to go back over [my calculations] because when I did it, I had done my best, and it was right.”

The mathematician has a handful of stories about her historic firsts, including becoming the first woman, and woman of color, to attend an editorial meeting at NASA. Johnson told the Post that she wanted to go to the meeting, and when someone told her women typically attend, she responded: “Is there a law that says I can’t go?” Her boss said, “Let her go.” And that was that.

While Johnson is modest about her milestones, her daughter — who has seen the film nine times — is glad that her mother is finally getting the recognition she deserves. “It’s wonderful — despite her humility, everyone is finding out what she did,” she said.

[The Washington Post]



Write to Samantha Cooney at samantha.cooney@time.com.

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