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"Hidden Figures": Katherine Johnson's granddaughter proud of Johnson's contributions to NASA

Renowned NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson (FOX 8) Renowned NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson (FOX 8)
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) -

A local science teacher took a group of her students to see the movie, "Hidden Figures".

Katherine Sanders grandmother is portrayed in the film. The genius mathematician's calculations helped NASA launch John Glenn into orbit and charted the course for astronauts to go to the moon and back.
 
"One revolution is going to equal to one year and one year is 365 days," sanders said to a class of fifth graders.

The kids at St. Peter Claver soak up a lesson about the earth's journey around the sun. For Sanders, the out of this world concept of space and space travel was part of her family's life.

Renowned NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson is her grandmother. Her story is told in the movie Hidden Figures. Actress Taraji P. Henson plays Johnson. Her calculations were a road map for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin's trip to the moon.

"By the way I asked her how did you figure this out. She said, it's simple. You just have to find where the stars are and begin counting. So,  in her mind however she had a picture of those constellations to me that's how she worked those numbers out," she said

Johnson was born in 1918 in white Sulphur Springs West  Virginia. From an early age, she fell in love with numbers. She counted everything from dishes to her steps, according to Sanders.

"They didn't even have enough math classes to keep up with her," she said.

Johnson went to college at 14 and graduated at 18.

Sanders said Johnson's father moved to the college to work as a janitor through the school year to be able to pay for it.

One of her instructors at West Virginia State suggested research mathematics. She later signed on to Langley Research Center in Virginia where African American women were being hired as part of The Human Computer Project.

She was so good, she would eventually calculate the flight path for Alan Shephard's first mission to space. 

Johnson married and had three daughters. Over the years her granddaughter says she didn't know the true magnitude of what Johnson did at NASA.

"I've watched her in her work," Sanders said. "I knew what trajectory was. NASA never made a big deal about it. Her Co-Workers didn't and she didn't so I didn't know it was extra special," Sanders said.

Education and learning were everything to Johnson, even on family car trips.

"She would have us count the license plates in front of us, and add up the numbers. Then you might add the car next to that car. As we grew up it was subtracting and one year we'd be multiplying the license plates," she said

Sanders loves teaching kids too. She relocated from Virginia years ago, graduated in Biology from SUNO AND TALKS to her students about her grandmother whenever she can.

"I think she was confident when she was a kid and when she's a grownup," said student Nicole Andry.

Johnson is 98 now. She and her husband still live in Virginia. Sanders and her family visit often. 

"The person in the movie is my great grandmother," said Jada Bates, Sander's daughter.

"If I can do nothing but share her legacy and her accomplishments and inspire young and old, across genders,  across races,  and let them know anything is possible," Sanders said smiling.

Copyright 2017 WVUE. All rights reserved.

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