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NASA math nerd, 'Hidden Figures' star Katherine Johnson among latest Barbies

Aaron Aupperlee
| Wednesday, March 7, 2018, 11:42 a.m.
Katherine Johnson is a pioneer in mathematics who broke through barriers of race and gender, and joined a pool of women hired by NASA to work as 'human computers' to calculate the trajectory of the first American-manned flight into space. (Photo from Mattel)
Katherine Johnson is a pioneer in mathematics who broke through barriers of race and gender, and joined a pool of women hired by NASA to work as 'human computers' to calculate the trajectory of the first American-manned flight into space. (Photo from Mattel)
Frida Kahlo was an artist who gained recognition for her unique style and perspective, and became a celebrated artist, activist and symbol of strength. (Photo from Mattel)
Frida Kahlo was an artist who gained recognition for her unique style and perspective, and became a celebrated artist, activist and symbol of strength. (Photo from Mattel)
Amelia Earhart was the first female aviator to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, courageously challenging the conventions of the times by breaking and setting aviation records. (Photo from Mattel)
Amelia Earhart was the first female aviator to fly across the Atlantic Ocean, courageously challenging the conventions of the times by breaking and setting aviation records. (Photo from Mattel)
Barbie Global Role Models include: Vicky Martin Berrocal, Xiaotong Guan, Bindi Irwin, Sara Gama, Chloe Kim, Martyna Wojciechowska, Nicola Adams OBE, Yuan Yuan Tan, Patty Jenkins, Hélène Darroze, Hui Ruoqi, and Leyla Piedayesh (Photo from Mattel)
Mattel
Barbie Global Role Models include: Vicky Martin Berrocal, Xiaotong Guan, Bindi Irwin, Sara Gama, Chloe Kim, Martyna Wojciechowska, Nicola Adams OBE, Yuan Yuan Tan, Patty Jenkins, Hélène Darroze, Hui Ruoqi, and Leyla Piedayesh (Photo from Mattel)
Mattel made Barbies to honor Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo and Katherine Johnson. They are the first three women to be honored in the Inspiring Women series. (Photo from Mattel)
Mattel made Barbies to honor Amelia Earhart, Frida Kahlo and Katherine Johnson. They are the first three women to be honored in the Inspiring Women series. (Photo from Mattel)

Katherine Johnson broke racial and gender barriers as a mathematician for NASA charting the trajectories of the first manned space fights.

Her work helped helped Alan Shepard, the first American in space, return safely. She calculated John Glenn's pioneering orbit around the Earth.

President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Taraji P. Henson played her in the critically acclaimed film "Hidden Figures" about the work of NASA's human computers. NASA named a building after her.

And now Johnson is a Barbie.

Mattel announced this week 17 new Barbie dolls including Johnson to celebrate International Women's Day on Thursday.

"Girls have always been able to play out different roles and careers with Barbie and we are thrilled to shine a light on real life role models to remind them that they can be anything," Lisa McKnight, senior vice president and general manager of Barbie, said in a statement.

Johnson, 99, who grew up about five hours south of Pittsburgh in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, joins pilot Amelia Earhart and artist Frida Kahlo as the first three Barbies in the Inspiring Women series. These dolls will come with educational information about the women and their contributions to society. The dolls are designed to help girls learn about the women who helped pave the way for them to explore.

Dolls honoring fourteen modern-day role models were introduced as part of Barbie's Shero program. The women include Patty Jenkins, the director of "Wonder Woman," Olympic gold medal winning snowboarder Chloe Kim, Martyna Wojciechowska, a Polish journalist who has climbed the highest mountain on all seven continents, and Nicola Adams, a bisexual British boxer.

Barbie started its Shero program in 2015 to create one-of-a-kind dolls to honor women in roles that expand possibilities for girls everywhere. It is Barbie's highest honor, the company said in a statement.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at aaupperlee@tribweb.com, 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.

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