Stars align for space travel at memorable Oscars ceremony

27 Feb 2017

Oscars figurines. Image: 360b/Shutterstock

NASA’s fingerprints were all over the Academy Awards, with key members of the association’s history gaining particular recognition.

Amid a troubling political landscape, and the controversial execution of the Best Picture prize at last night’s Academy Awards (26 February), NASA’s high achievers received some serious recognition at the event.

NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, one of the many women that helped to drive the space race in the 1950s-60s and inspire the blockbuster movie Hidden Figures, took to the stage and received a standing ovation for her achievements.

Although the movie failed to take the top prize, Johnson’s appearance on stage was something that NASA was particularly proud of.

“Movies about the lives of men and women in the history books have long been a staple of storytellers. Sometimes, the names and deeds are the heroes, and their names are known to all,” said actress Janelle Monáe.

Co-star Taraji P Henson, who played Johnson in Hidden Figures, added: “We were honoured to be in an inspiring film about three such women.”

Johnson, now 98, was escorted onto the stage by NASA astronaut Yvonne Cagle, before thanking everyone in attendance.

A physicist, space scientist and mathematician, Johnson was integral to early crewed space flight. She carried out the calculations for Alan Shepard’s flight (which made him the first American in space). She also verified the calculations made by an electronic computer for John Glenn’s orbit – at Glenn’s request – and for Apollo 11’s trajectory to the moon.

In 2016, NASA named a building at the Langley Research Center after Johnson, who was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014.

Elsewhere, engineer and astronaut Anousheh Ansari – who self-funded her way to becoming the first ever Iranian in space – and former NASA scientist Firouz Naderi accepted the Best Foreign Language Film award for The Salesman on behalf of director Asghar Farhadi.

Farhadi chose not to attend the event after US president Donald Trump’s move to bar Iranian visa-holders from entering the US.

Oscar figurines. Image: 360b/Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic