Katherine Johnson, a NASA mathematician who calculated the flight path for America’s first space mission and the moon landing, has passed away at age 101. To remind you, she made history for her stereotype-shattering work with NASA and was one of the women profiled in the book and Oscar-nominated movie, “Hidden Figures.”
Portrayed in the film by Taraji P. Henson, women like Johnson didn’t wait for STEM programs … they MADE them! After graduating in 1937 with the highest honors and degrees in math and French from West Virginia State College, Johnson became a teacher. In 1952 she took a job at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the agency that later became NASA.
There she did trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s 1961 mission Freedom 7, America’s first human spaceflight. Johnson is also known for her work “that greatly contributed to” the first American orbital spaceflight, with pilot John Glenn.
According to NASA, astronauts were weary of putting their lives on the line based on electronic calculating machines, but Glenn trusted the calculations Johnson did by hand. “If she says they’re good,” she remembers the astronaut saying, “then I’m ready to go.”
During her three decades at NASA, Johnson also worked on the space shuttle and authored or coauthored 26 research reports. She said her greatest contribution to space exploration was making the calculations that helped put men on the moon in 1969. She retired in 1986 and said at the time, “I loved going to work every single day.” President Obama awarded Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor, in 2015.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine calls Johnson “an American hero,” and says she “made huge strides that also opened doors for women and people of color in the universal human quest to explore space.”
Source: NBC News