NASA has announced that they are giving some overdue recognition to Katherine Johnson, one of the first black women to work for the organisation, and whose mathematics capabilities were instrumental in sending Neil Armstrong to the Moon.
The Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Facility in West Virginia now bears the name of the 100-year-old mathematician who was affectionately known as the “human computer” of NASA, and who did the majority of the calculations involved with sending Neil Armstrong to the Moon in 1969, as well as bringing him and the team back safe. Her efforts are being honoured with the naming of this facility near where she was born in West Virginia.
Johnson is already a well-decorated scientist, earning the NASA Lunar Orbiter Award and three NASA Special Achievement awards before her retirement in 1986. She was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2015, and West Virginia State University erected a statue of her on their campus last year.
As well as real-life awards, Johnson and two of her colleagues, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, were the subject of 2016 film Hidden Figures, about their work for NASA and the Apollo missions. The film was nominated for an Oscar, which we can all agree Johnson can claim as well as her scientific awards.
Asked of the key to her success, Johnson suggested it was her inquisitive nature, telling NASA “The women did what they were told to do. They didn’t ask questions or take the task any further. I asked questions; I wanted to know why. They got used to me asking questions and being the only woman there.”
Johnson used her persistence and intellect to achieve great things, and she is finally being recognised for them. Share your thoughts on this story in the comments below!