This was a time when the USSR got the jump on the Americans with both the first satellite into space – Sputnik, the first live creature in space – the dog laika and then the first man into space – Yuri Gugarin.
These achievements shocked the US out of its complacency, but it becomes clear when the story unfolds, that without these three women, the US may have been dithering around for a long time instead of getting into space and restoring the nation’s confidence
In fact it becomes quite apparent that without the achievements of these women the US would not have turned around the Space Race, and in turn galvanized the world.
Kevin Costner plays the part of the Project boss to perfection and it is his steady head that prevails and offers not just the opportunity for “Katherine” to show her stuff, he helps break down many colour barriers that were obviously endemic within NASA at the time.
Very honourable mention goes to Jim Parsons who plays the part of Katherine’s boss once she is let loose in the inner sanctum of NASA, that is headed by Al Harrison – played by Kevin Costner. Parsons draws upon his “know it all” persona that he plays so well in the TV series – Big Bang Theory.
Yet the film does not allow itself to distract us from these amazing women, especially of Katherine Johnson, a brilliant “computer”. It is ironic that this is the term used in those days to described those who did the mathematical detail were call “computers” and without revealing too much – Johnson is the star not just of the film, but of the achievement of NASA in getting John Glenn into space.
Dorothy Vaughan, who supervises a team of coloured women working as “computers” over at the West Computing Building at NASA, is denied the title of Supervisor despite doing the job and pay packet to match because she is “coloured” by condescending colleague Kirsten Dunst.
Finally there is Mary Jackson, who must lobby a local judge to allow her access to a local segregated school so she can take night classes that will enable her to train as Nasa’s first female black engineer. Stories within stories is a critical essence of this film and director Theodore Melfi does it really well.
This film is a must. It is truly inspiring and the only question left unanswered at the end of the film is, why did it take 5 decades to be told?
Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson (L-R) were real “human computers”
at NASA when the U.S. made some of its biggest strides in space.
It has a very large cast but the principles are –
Watch the trailer –