An International Space Station (ISS) supply chip named after the Black National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) mathematician featured in the movie ‘Hidden Figures’ was launched into orbit on Saturday which is also the 59th anniversary of John Glenn’s historic liftoff. Expected to reach the ISS on Monday after being launched from Virginia’s eastern shore, Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus capsule has dubbed the S.S. Katherine Johnson who died almost exactly a year ago at the age of 101. While hailing her contributions, Frank DeMauro, a Northrop Grumman vice president said on the eve of the lift-off that Johnson was selected for “her hand-written calculations”.
“Mrs. Johnson was selected for her hand-written calculations that helped launch the first Americans into space, as well as her accomplishments in breaking glass ceiling after glass ceiling as a Black woman,” Frank DeMauro, said. “A homework assignment for all of you is to go watch that movie after the Cygnus launch.”
Who was S.S. Katherine Johnson?
S.S. Katherine Johnson, after whom Northrop Gruman named the NG-15 Cygnus spacecraft. Johnson’s hand-written calculations contributed to the February 20, 1962 flight in which John Glenn became the first American to orbit the world. The film, ‘Hidden Figures’ released in 2016, even depicted the effort put by the former NASA mathematician along with other Black women at the US space agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, during the early days of space exploration.
Born in 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Johnson completed degrees in Mathematics and French at only the age of 18 in 1937 and later became the first black women to attend the graduate school at West Virginia University. She was also one of the only three black students selected to integrate into the program.
Eventually, in 1957, Johnson joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA’s) Space Task Group that later became NASA in the same year. It was her team that took the first steps towards human space flight contributed by Johnson’s trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s May 1961 Freedom 7 mission—the country’s first human spaceflight.
A statement by Gruman’s official website said, “Johnson is most well-known for her work behind John Glenn’s orbital mission around the Earth. Glenn specifically requested that Johnson run the computer’s calculations by hand to proofread its work, saying “if she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go.”
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