Willie Mays, right, applauds NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, after she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
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After breaking the gender and color barrier, and working 30 years in a mostly white and male dominated field, physicist Katherine Johnson, at 98, is finally being recognized for the pioneer she is.
She is the central character in the Oscar-nominated film "Hidden Figures," which tells the story of Johnson and two other black women central to NASA's success in the 1960s and 1970s.
The film has earned $85 million in the two months since it opened, and Johnson, a black mathematics prodigy from White sulfur Springs, WV, started her career at NASA by helping the late astronaut and U.S. Senator John Glenn orbit the Earth. She takes the attention the film has garnered in stride, according to an interview with the lady in The Washington Post.
Johnson is still struggling to figure out what all the fuss is about. “There’s nothing to it — I was just doing my job,” she said during an interview in her living room in Hampton Roads, Va. “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.”
Her original title at the Research Center was "computer," and by the time she retired in 1986, she had helped Glenn's flight, lent her talents to the moon landings and was involved in the 1970 rescue of Apollo 13, in addition to the first space shuttle missions. She's also credited with helping write one of the first textbooks on space, says The Post.
In 2015, then-President Barack Obama gave her the highest civilian honor by awarding her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, something she describes as "a thrill." In 2014, she was interviewed in her home in Virginia by a local news outlet and, when asked if working as a "computer" in the early days of space flight was difficult, she shrugs and says, "No. It was a piece of cake."
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