'I'm honored': Janelle Monae on playing NASA's 1st black female engineer in 'Hidden Figures'

"Without their brains, we would not have sent John Glenn," she said.

ByABC News
February 20, 2017, 10:40 AM

— -- Actress Janelle Monae appears in two films nominated for best picture at the Oscars this year, including the biographical drama "Hidden Figures."

Monae stopped by "Good Morning America" to share what it means to portray Mary Jackson, the first black woman to be an engineer at NASA, in the 1950s.

For her to become a NASA engineer, Jackson, who died in 2005, needed to take classes that were held at a then-whites-only high school and for that had to petition a judge.

"First of all, I'm honored to just honor these women," said Monae, 31. "I had no clue who Mary Jackson was, who Miss Katherine Johnson was, Dorothy Vaughan or any of the 'colored computers,' as they called us back then. I didn't know these were the women who sent our first American astronauts into space. I mean, these are American heroes."

"Hidden Figures" is the story of a team of African-American female mathematicians who were instrumental to John Glenn's launch into space.

Glenn, a legendary figure in the U.S. space flight program, flew the Friendship 7 mission and was the first U.S. astronaut to orbit Earth.

Today is the 55th anniversary of Glenn's orbital flight.

"I don't think she [Jackson] was really trying to be the first. She just wanted to contribute," Monae said. "I think race and gender became a thing when someone else made it a thing."

Monae is also in the Oscar-nominated film "Moonlight."

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