“Timeless,” the NBC series about three time-traveling special operatives who hop from historical period to historical period, took us to July 20, 1969, in its most recent episode, the day man landed on the moon. Our heroes, engineering genius Rufus, historian Lucy, and soldier Wyatt, have to stop the time traveling criminal Garcia Flynn from turning civilization’s greatest triumph to a tragedy by stranding Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon. The series, as in previous episodes, depicts real-life historical figures, including a hitherto unsung hero named Katherine Johnson.
Johnson was a math genius who calculated the trajectories that sent John Glenn into orbit, took Apollo 11 to the moon, and saved the mission of Apollo 13 from disaster. She was also an African American woman who contributions to the early #Space program should have made her as famous as people like Gene Kranz or Wernher Von Braun (depicted in a previous episode of “Timeless”) but have not, at least until now.
In the episode, Johnson helps our heroes break into NASA’s mainframe, a by today’s standard a primitive machine with less power than a modern calculator, and eliminate a computer virus that had cut off communications between Mission Control and the astronauts on the moon. If communications are not restored, the astronauts will die on the moon. In the rewritten timeline, Johnson becomes the hero who saved the moon landing and gets her well-deserved accolades decades before she actually did.
Roughly 400,000 people in various capacities helped to put men on the moon in the greatest feat of engineering and exploration in human #history. Some, like the astronauts, have been enshrined in history forever. Most, like Katherine Johnson, worked in obscurity. Johnson, for her part, was always humble about her contributions, regarding the effort as a team one. But her breaking of racial and gender barriers, albeit in an organization that valued merit above all, makes her special.