NASA has dedicated its newest building to Katherine Johnson, a pioneer research mathematician who worked at the agency from 1953 until her retirement in 1986. She and her colleagues inspired the book and movie Hidden Figures, which chronicled the role of African-American women in NASA’s early missions and the discrimination they faced.
Johnson was hired at Langley Research Center’s Guidance and Navigation Department, where she calculated trajectories for Alan Shepard’s first space flight in 1961. The following year she verified computer calculations for John Glenn’s orbital flight.
Johnson attended Friday’s building dedication in Hampton, Va. as did U.S. Senator Mark Warner (D-Va), Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and Hidden Figures author Margot Lee Shetterly.
The 99-year-old Johnson did not take questions at the ribbon cutting, but she did pre-tape an interview about her work and how she felt about being the subject of last year’s film Hidden Figures. In the film, she was played by Taraji P. Henson.
Asked on video how she felt about all the attention she’s received lately—President Barack Obama also awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 —she said she was part of a team.
“I was excited at something new, always liked something new, but give credit to everybody who helped. I didn’t do anything alone but try to go to the root of the question and succeeded there.”
Her secret for success? “Like what you do and then you will do your best.”
As of Friday’s ribbon cutting, the new 37,000-square foot Katherine Johnson Computational Research Facility was officially open for business.