Local family knew 'Hidden Figures' long before movie

It was like looking at her life on a giant screen: the church picnics, the bridge games at her mother’s friends’ houses. Janet Darden Gipson couldn’t help but get misty-eyed.

KUSA – It was like looking at her life on a giant screen: the church picnics, the bridge games at her mother’s friends’ houses. Janet Darden Gipson couldn’t help but get misty-eyed.

“I sat in the movie in tears,” she said. “Because my home was on the screen.”

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Gipson grew up in Hampton, Virginia. It’s the background city for the Oscar-nominated movie “Hidden Figures.”

The film details the struggles and triumphs of African American women who worked for NASA during the 1960s, helping astronaut John Glenn become the first American to orbit earth.

“We all had parents who worked at NASA,” Gipson said.

Christine Mann Darden

Her mother, Christine Mann Darden, worked there after the period depicted in the movie. But Darden is mentioned in the Hidden Figures book.

“They’re finally getting the recognition that I don’t think they’ve gotten through the years.”

Katrina Mann Boykin grew up always hearing stories of her aunt, Darden, and the amazing things she was doing at NASA.

“As a young black girl growing up in Park Hill, I thought that was pretty neat,” she said.

The movie brought Boykin, too, to tears. It also brought the audience to its feet.

“We stood up and clapped at the end of the movie. That’s how moving it was for everyone,” she said.

Darden began working for NASA as a so-called “human computer” in 1967.

“You were hired to do computations,” Gipson says of her mother’s work. “They supported engineers back then… The engineers would bring you an analysis to do. And that’s what you did.”

Darden, though, worked her way up to becoming an aerospace engineer. She did major work that made a major impact.

“She was an expert in sonic boom minimization,” Gipson said. “Her job was to figure out how to minimize the airflow over certain aircraft and air foils to minimize that, so we could have super-sonic transport over land.”

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Darden traveled the world sharing her findings. She now travels to talk about her life’s work which has gotten a lot more interest from the public since the “Hidden Figures” debuted.

One of the movie’s actors says the film is already inspiring more girls to pursue careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

“Now it’s time for them to see women who are achieving things, showing that there is a path for you," Gipson said.