NASA’s Digital Learning Network hosted a virtual event where students across the country had the opportunity to ask questions to NASA experts and the director of the upcoming “Hidden Figures” movie.
“Hidden Figures” tells the true story of three Black women working at NASA during the 1960’s whose calculations sent the first man around the world. The film has an all-star cast, including Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae.
“I first fell in love with her [Henson] during Benjamin Button. A lot of people know her from “Empire,” which is day and night. To see that range, I thought she would be fresh and a great pick,” said Director Ted Melfi when asked about casting the movie. “Octavia Spencer brought the motherly vibe and Janelle Monae represents the fighter. She came into the part with such fire and gave great energy to the role.”
Along with Melfi, students asked questions to the administrator of NASA and senior space science advisor to the U.S. president, Charles Bolden. NASA Chief Historian Bill Burry and NASA Senior Systems Analyst Julie Williams-Byrd also lent their insight.
The group answered questions about working at NASA, math, science and more. Some students wanted to know what it was like working today with all of the new technology.
“Computers are great, but if we don’t understand what we’re putting in it, we won’t understand what we’re getting out of it,” said Williams-Byrd. “It is really truly important to understand the math and science behind it.”
The panel also discussed diversity and not letting your differences or biases get in the ways of goals.
“Don’t waste your time trying to explain why you’re there,” said Bolden. “Focus on your work. Don’t do a lot of talking. Act and show your excellence.”
Director Ted Melfi spoke on his encounters with Catherine Johnson, who is played by Henson, and how she said she never paid attention to sexism and racism. She said that she put her head down and did the work.
The conversation ended with telling the students to follow their dreams and to jump over any obstacles that are in their way. For more information on NASA and Hidden Figures, visit www.nasa.go/modernfigures.