NASA Honours African American Mathematician

African American

If you have seen the movie ‘Hidden Figures’, you will be no stranger to Katherine Johnson’s story.

She was an African American mathematician who worked at NASA. Now, NASA has officially opened a building which it has named in her honour.

The Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility opened on Friday (Sept 22).

Johnson was first hired in the 1950s as part of a team of human computers. She was given the task for producing calculations for the 1961 flight of the first American in space

As an African American woman, Johnson faced a lot of discrimination. But she overcame all of this with her talent and grit. It was Johnson who confirmed computer calculations for John Glenn’s orbit in 1962, and the 1969 Apollo II flight to the moon. 

The newly opened facility at NASA is 37,000 sq feet long. It will be devoted to advancing Langley’s capabilities in modelling, stimulation, big data and analysis.

Johnson, who is now 99 years old, attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony

When asked about how she felt about a building being named in her honour, Johnson said, “You want my honest answer? I think they’re crazy.”

“I was excited at something new, always liked something new, but give credit to everybody who helped. I didn’t do anything alone but try to go to the root of the question and succeeded there.”

Extraordinary Math Skills

Johnson was born in 1918, and was the youngest child of a farmer and teacher. Even as a child, she showed extraordinary abilities in mathematics.

Her country did not have schooling for Black students, so she relocated so she could continue her education. 

Barack Obama gave Johnson the presidential medal of freedom in 2015. He called her a pioneer who broke boundaries of race and gender.

And Johnson is indeed that. She strove to new heights at a time in which it was unheard of for women, especially African American women, to do so.

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Picture Credit: Bio