DOROTHY VAUGHAN (nee JOHNSON) was a 1929 graduate of Wilberforce University. The NASA mathematician helped launch John Glenn into space during the space race. She is played by Octavia Spencer in the film Hidden Figures.

Wilberforce grad one of the ‘Hidden Figures’ who helped launch John Glenn into space

A local grad helped launch John Glenn into space, and helped America catch up to the Soviet Union. 

Dorothy Vaughan, a 1929 graduate of Wilberforce University, is among three African-American woman portrayed in the new film “Hidden Figures.”

Octavia Spencer plays Vaughan in the film based on a book by the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly.

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The actress was nominated for best supporting actress Golden Globe for her performance. 

Vaughan served as head of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ segregated West Area Computing Unit from 1949 to 1958.

Hidden Figures is the story of Katherine G. Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson who are African-American women working at NASA. (20th Century Fox/TNS)
Photo: 20th Century Fox/TNS

“Hidden Figures” tells the story of  Vaughan and fellow mathematicians Katherine Johnson ( Taraji P. Henson) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe).

Their calculation helped Ohio native John Glenn became the first American astronaut to make a complete orbit of Earth, a major step for America during the nation’s space race with the Soviet Union.

Glenn died last month at age 95. 

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John Glenn

A native of Kansas City, Mo., Vaughan was NASA's first African-American manager. She retired in 1971 after 28 years with NASA. She died in 2008 at age 98. 

From her NASA BIO:

  (Vaughan) collaborated with other well-known (white) computers like Vera Huckel and Sara Bullock on projects such as compiling a handbook for algebraic methods for calculating machines. Vaughan was a steadfast advocate for the women of West Computing, and even intervened on behalf of white computers in other groups who deserved promotions or pay raises. Engineers valued her recommendations as to the best "girls" for a particular project, and for challenging assignments they often requested that she personally handle the work.

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