'Hidden Figures' cast coming to Kennedy Space Center

By Christie Zizo, Digital Media Producer
Last Updated: Sunday, December 11, 2016, 11:50 PM EST

In 1962, the late, great John Glenn launched into space in his Friendship 7 spacecraft, orbited the Earth three times, and landed in the Pacific Ocean.

And without Katherine Johnson, that mission would not have gone off.

Katherine Johnson was one of the many “human computers,” women who, as mathematicians, helped calculate America’s early space travels.

Moreover, Johnson was Black and her work was groundbreaking because she pushed the boundaries of what a woman – and a black woman to boot – could do at NASA.

On Monday, cast members of the new film “Hidden Figures” will visit Kennedy Space Center to talk about the movie, as well as Johnson and colleagues like Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson.

The film is based on the recently-released book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly.

Glenn's death last week at the age of 95 cast the film in a new light as it premiered in New York over the weekend.

While Katherine Johnson helped Glenn break ground, the cast said Glenn helped prop Johnson and her colleagues up as well.

"He's a hero. John Glenn was always on the right side of history," said actress Janelle Monae (Mary Jackson) this weekend. "During a time when these women, because of their gender and the color of their skin, were often times treated like second-class citizens, he extended his hand out, and he trusted women, and women of color, with his life."

But one question that is sure to be asked Monday by members of the media: why did it take so long for their stories to come out to the general public?

“I thought it was historical fiction,” said actress Octavia Spencer (Dorothy Vaughan) Sunday during a Q&A with NASA. “I thought we had been exposed to so much about the space race. But I didn’t realize that there were women, both black and white who were at Hampton Roads [where much of the movie takes place].”

For Taraji P. Henson, who plays Katherine Johnson, it became her mission to work on this project.

“I grew up somehow understanding that math and science wasn’t for girls,” Henson said. “And it’s not that someone particularly told me, but it was just some kind of universal understanding.

“So when Ted sent me the script, I was pissed because everybody lied,” she laughed.

Director Theodore Melfi says there are multiple reasons why we are just learning about the “human computers,” aside from the facts of gender and ethnicity

“We don’t celebrate math,” Melfi said. “We don’t have parades for mathematicians.”

A lot of their work was also classified.

NASA historian Bill Barry also says a lot of these stories started to come out in the 90s as women’s history became more important.

“We started gathering the information about the women computers in interviews,” Barry said. “And as a historian gathers all that stuff and puts it in an archive someday hoping someone will look at it someday. What a thrill to have Margot Shetterly dig through all that stuff and write such a great book!”

With the book now out and the movie coming out in January, the team hopes the stories will inspire a new generation of boys and girls to get into science technology, engineering and math careers.

We will be at Kennedy Space Center for the “Hidden Figures” cast’s visit on Monday. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.