People Are Celebrating NASA's Decision To Honor 'Hidden Figures' Icon Katherine Johnson

"I can’t imagine a better tribute to Mrs. Johnson’s character and accomplishments than this building that will bear her name."

Less than a year ago, the critically acclaimed film Hidden Figures ruled the box office and racked up three Oscar nominations. It also brought the inspiring true story of Katherine Johnson and her colleagues to the fore. 

Now NASA has honored Johnson with the opening of a new state-of-the-art research facility in her name.

In the 1960s, Johnson was a "human computer" at NASA's Langley Research Center. Her contributions included calculating the flight trajectories for Alan Shepard, the first American in space in 1961; John Glenn, the first astronaut to orbit the earth in 1962; and the Apollo 11 mission to the moon in 1969. As detailed in Hidden Figures, Johnson and her brilliant colleagues (including Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan) dealt with racism and sexism as Black women in segregated Virginia.

On Friday, the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility opened at Langley, with 99-year-old Johnson attending a ribbon-cutting ceremony in her honor. According to NASA's press release, the event was attended by friends and family, fellow "computers," and students from Black Girls Code and the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program.

Johnson, who in 2015 received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from former president Barack Obama, had a funny reaction to the latest honor: "You want my honest answer? I think they're crazy."

The $23 million facility, consolidating four data centers, is the third building in a 20-year revitalization plan at Langley. According to NASA, the CRF "advances Langley's capabilities in modeling and simulation, big data and analysis."

"We're here to honor the legacy of one of the most admired and inspirational people ever associated with NASA," Langley Director David Bowles said at the ceremony. "I can't imagine a better tribute to Mrs. Johnson's character and accomplishments than this building that will bear her name."

Johnson reportedly received four standing ovations at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. She said of her job at NASA, "I didn't do anything alone but to try to get to the root of the question – and succeeded there."

Margot Lee Shetterly, who wrote the book on which Hidden Figures was based, was the keynote speaker at the event. "We are living in a present that they willed into existence with their pencils, their slide rules, their mechanical calculating machines — and, of course, their brilliant minds," she said of Johnson and her colleagues.

On Twitter, many people celebrated the building's opening, expressing their appreciation for Johnson's work, and their joy that she was able to receive such an honor in her lifetime.

See some of the positive responses to the dedication below:


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