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Women History Month - Katherine Johnson

Info eNConnect celebrates Katherine G. Johnson, one of the most influential women in the history of technology.

Image from The Hollywood Reporter site

Hidden Figures is a 2016 American biographical drama film based on a true story and non-fiction book about African-American female mathematicians at NASA. The film stars Taraji P. Henson as Katherine G. Johnson, a mathematician who calculated NASA's flight trajectories, featuring Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan and Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson.

In 1962, mathematician Katherine Goble Johnson worked at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, alongside colleagues Mary Jackson, an aspiring engineer, and Dorothy Vaughan, the acting supervisor of the group of African-American women, referred to as "computers."

"We will always have STEM with us. Some things will drop out of the public eye and will go away, but there will always be science, engineering, and technology. And there will always be mathematics." ~ Katherine Goble Johnson

After the successful launch of the Soviet Union's Sputnik, Al Harrison, the director of the NASA Space Group, was told to get American astronauts into space quickly. Katherine was assigned to assist the team as a computer specialist, becoming the first African-American woman in the group of white male engineers.

Harrison challenged the entire engineering group to solve a complex mathematical equation. When Katherine stepped forward & solved it, she gained his notice. The team of astronauts, including John Glenn, visited Langley; Glenn made a point to thank the African American employees. Despite several objections, Harrison included Katherine in the high-security meetings so that she could hear firsthand how the data was constantly changing. She created a sophisticated equation to solve the problem of slowing the space capsule to enable a safe re-entry and landing at a particular point.

When issues still arose before the space launch, John Glenn specifically requested Katherine to check the calculations before he would do the mission. Ultimately, the management team assigned Katherine to the Analysis and Computation Division. Katherine Johnson calculated the trajectories for the Apollo 11 and Apollo 13 space missions & later the Space Shuttles.

In 2015, Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama. Katherine Globe Johnson passed at the age of 102 on February 24, 2020.

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