KATHERINE COLEMAN; THE AFRICAN-AMERICAN NASA PIONEER
By Serwaa Ampaafo
Most of us might have heard of John Glenn, Alan Shepard and Neil Armstrong—but do we know Katherine Johnson? Also we might have likely heard of the historic Apollo 13 moon landing. But do we know about the mathematical genius who made sure that Apollo 13 returned safely home?
Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson (born August 26, 1918) is an African-American mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. manned spaceflights.
For more than 30 years, Johnson worked as a NASA mathematician at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., where she played an unseen but pivotal role in the country’s space missions. That she was an African American woman in an almost all-male and white workforce made her career even more remarkable.
She earned a reputation for mastering complex manual calculations and helped the space agency pioneer the use of computers to perform the tasks.
Johnson’s work included calculating trajectories, launch windows and emergency return paths for Project Mercury spaceflights, including those of astronauts Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and John Glenn, the first American in orbit, and rendezvous paths for the Apollo lunar lander and command module on flights to the Moon.
Her calculations were also essential to the beginning of the Space Shuttle program, and she worked on plans for a mission to Mars.
Katherine Johnson, made huge contributions at NASA during the Space Race yet remains largely unmentioned in the history of the United states Of America.. Her case could be placed in the context of racial segregation and gender discrimination.
In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
She was portrayed by Taraji P. Henson as a lead character in the 2016 movie “Hidden Figures” three decades after retiring from the agency.
A film based on a book of the same name. The movie tells how a group of black women — world-class mathematicians all — helped provide NASA with data crucial to the success of the agency’s early spaceflights. Katherine is over a 100years now and still alive.