History is littered with unknown people who have changed the course of world events. Think of Norman Borlaug. Have you never heard about him? Well, not surprising. Borlaug was an agricultural scientist who never got articles on the front page. But his plant genetics studies revolutionized agriculture and fed millions of hungry people. A similar figure is Katherine Johnson. She’s a mathematician, another job that hardly raises the heart rate, according to USA Today. Her contributions were vital to the U.S. space programme, however. Johnson has crunched the numbers that have proved critical in several NASA missions.
She determined the trajectory for astronaut Alan Shepard’s Mercury-Redstone 3 mission (aka Freedom 7). It was the United States’ first manned spaceflight.
Johnson also confirmed the computer-plotted orbit for Mercury-Atlas 6 (aka Friendship 7), which made John Glenn the first American astronaut to obrit around the earth. Prior to the mission, he famously stated, “Get the girl to check the numbers.”
If that sounds a little brusque, it was. Johnson is both female and African American, a brilliant woman whose genius also existed with the evils of segregation.
That caused many to not issue her adequate respect during her heyday. But society has come to recognize the incredible woman she is and the shocking impact she had, publishing of a plethora of books that celebrate her, as well as releasing the big-budget 2016 film “Hidden Figures.”
NASA itself is now paying their respects the woman once dubbed a “computer in skirts.” WFAA reported that it is renaming a West Virginia facility after the incredible mathematician.
Once called the NASA Independent Verification and Validation Facility, the facility in Fairmont, West Virginia, will now hold the name “the Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation Facility.” It’s particularly appropriate since Johnson hails from the Mountain State.
“I am thrilled we are honoring Katherine Johnson in this way as she is a true American icon who overcame incredible obstacles and inspired so many,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. “It’s a fitting tribute to name the facility that carries on her legacy of mission-critical computations in her honor.”
“It’s an honor the NASA IV&V Program’s primary facility now carries Katherine Johnson’s name,” NASA IV&V Program Director Gregory Blaney added. “It’s a way for us to recognize Katherine’s career and contributions not just during Black History Month, but every day, every year.”
Johnson, who turned 100 in 2018, has also received other honors in recent years. In 2015, she was the recepient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
NASA also honored her by naming a research facility after her at its Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, in 2017. It may be coming late, but her name is one that won’t be forgotten to history.