Trailblazer, Pittsburgh native to offer ‘Hidden Figures’ introduction

PITTSBURGH — Tri-State Area residents will have the chance to meet the women they don’t know who were behind the mission they do know during a special screening of the film “Hidden Figures.”

The Oscar-nominated film will be shown at 7 p.m. July 24 in the Rangos Giant Cinema as part of the Science and Screen Series at the Carnegie Science Center.

Elayne Arrington, a Pittsburgh native, aeronautical engineer and the first African American woman to graduate from the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Engineering will present an introduction to the film, which is being shown as part of Carnegie Science Center’s Summer of Space, an ongoing celebration of Apollo 11’s 50th anniversary.

“Hidden Figures” puts the spotlight on a team of African American women who provided NASA with important mathematical data needed to launch the program’s first successful space missions in the 1960s. As the United States raced against Russia to put a man in space, three brilliant women at NASA — Katherine Johnson (portrayed by Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughan (portrayed by Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (portrayed by Janelle Mon’e) — became the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history: The launch of astronaut John Glenn (portrayed by Glen Powell) into orbit, a stunning achievement that restored the nation’s confidence, turned around the space race and captivated the world.

Elayne Arrington has seen, through personal experiences, an evolution of the attitude toward black females in the S.T.E.M. community. It is a journey that encounters the total marginalization of the past, the partial assimilation of the present and the hope for absolute inclusion in the future, she said.

Arrington attended West Mifflin and Homestead public schools, graduating first in her class from Homestead Senior High School. She earned a bachelor of science degree in mechanical engineering, aeronautical option, and the master of science and doctor of philosophy degrees in mathematics. In addition to being the first African American woman to graduate from Pitt’s School of Engineering, she is the 17th African American woman in the history of the United States to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics.

Arrington worked in the foreign technology division of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base as an aerospace engineer, the first female employed in such a capacity in that division. She’ll discuss her experiences and career before the film.

In addition to “Hidden Figures,” the Rangos is showing a new, 47-minute documentary about Apollo 11, created specifically for science museums and giant screens. “Apollo 11: First Steps Edition” is an all-archival, immersive film chronicling the experience of the first manned lunar mission. It beautifully captures one of humanity’s greatest feats with never-before-seen 70mm footage and newly discovered audio recordings.

For those who want to learn more about the minds behind NASA’s successes in the Apollo 11 era, the Science Center just launched a new Buhl Planetarium show, Fly Me to the Moon. Visitors will learn about Neil Armstrong, the boy who loved to fly; Katherine Johnson, the girl who loved to count; Pittsburgh, the city that loved to build; and how these stories and more converged to make the Moon landing possible. The show places a special emphasis on Pittsburgh’s contributions to the mission.

For more information, contact the science center at (412) 237-3400.

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