Katherine Johnson, who has died at the age of 101, was an amazing woman. But up until a few years ago, hardly anyone had heard of her or her achievements. She was a mathematician and she worked for NASA. But on paper neither of those facts would make her stand out from the crowd. Add a few more facts – she was a woman, she was black and working in the US in the 1950s to early 1960s – and the scale of her success becomes more apparent.

Johnson’s story and significant contributions to the US space programme, along with those of Dorothy Vaughan (a computer scientist) and Mary Jackson (an engineer), were brought to widespread public attention by the 2016 book Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly and film of the same name.

I have rarely watched a film that has moved me as much as Hidden Figures did when I first saw it. And I have seen it at least twice since when I have led discussions about the significance of the film, drawing on my own experience of working in the…



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