And who says girls are bad at math? Most definitely Katherine Johnson is not!
Born in West Virgina in 1918, she was a girl who grew up in a time when not only were women not expected to grow up and do great things, but a woman of color had the additional obstacle of racism. But that didn’t stop Katherine from counting and that is the fascination that led to her greatness that culminated in her service at NASA.
When describing her youthful obsession, she said, “I counted everything. I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to the church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed… anything that could be counted, I did.” And what did all that counting lead to? The 2015 National Medal of Freedom.
She was an amazing achiever. At the tender age of ten she was a freshman in high school. Imagine that in the time period and circumstances she was in! The gringa is in awe! And, apparently, her father was as well. He did what was necessary to see that his daughter fulfilled her potential.
Eventually he relocated the entire family to Institute, West Virginia so Katherine could complete her education and she graduated college at the age of eighteen. Katherine then went on to teach, raise a family and eventually work for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in 1953 which would later be replaced by NASA. In the time before there were computers to do the tedious job of counting and recording, people like Katherine did the job.
As a “human computer”, Katherine completed mission assignments like calculating the trajectory for the first American in space, Alan Shepard. Once computers did exist, Katherine was the back up that double checked the computer’s accuracy on calculations. Her work was so respected that before John Glenn made his spaceflight aboard Friendship 7, he specifically asked for Katherine to do the recheck on his mission calculations.
Katherine worked on the Apollo Moon landing mission as well as the early beginnings of the shuttle program. She continued to serve the people of the United States of America, as well as the entire world, through her extraordinary work at NASA until 1986.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom medal that she was awarded on Tuesday, November 24, 2015, was not the only merit to her name. In addition to honorary doctorates, in 1967 she received the NASA Lunar Orbiter Spacecraft and Operations team award for her work in navigation.
What does NASA have to say about Katherine? The following are quoted from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden’s public statement:
“She’s one of the greatest minds ever to grace our agency or our country…”
“Katherine’s legacy is a big part of the reason that my fellow astronauts and I were able to get to space…”
NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman said: “We are fortunate that when faced with the adversity of racial and gender barriers, she found the courage to say ‘tell them I’m coming’.
And the gringa will close with those simple yet bold words from a great woman.
Source & Photo Credit: http://www.nasa.gov