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NASA dedicates facility to mathematician Katherine Johnson

he Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility at NASA Langley Research Center. Image Credit: NASA

The Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility at NASA’s Langley Research Center. Image Credit: NASA

NASA has commemorated the many contributions of retired mathematician Katherine Johnson during a building dedication ceremony on Thursday, May 5, at the space agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. The event took place on the 55th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s historic spaceflight aboard Freedom 7 in 1961, which Johnson helped make possible.Johnson, now 97, worked at Langley from 1953 until her retirement in 1986. She began her career as a research mathematician, part of a pool of women hired to perform mathematical calculations by hand for engineers. After quickly distinguishing herself, she was permanently assigned to the branch that calculated the launch windows for the first Project Mercury flights.

Notable accomplishments during Johnson’s 33-year career include her computation, by hand, of the launch window and trajectory for Shepard’s flight, and verification, by hand, of computer calculations for John Glenn’s orbit around the Earth in 1962. She also calculated the trajectory for the Apollo 11 Moon landing. In 2015, she received the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Retired NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson at the May 5, 2016 naming event for the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility. Photo Credit: NASA

Retired NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson at the May 5, 2016, naming event for the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility. Photo Credit: NASA

Hundreds of people turned out for Thursday’s naming ceremony at NASA Langley. The keynote address was delivered by Margot Lee Shetterly, author of the book Hidden Figures, which chronicles the many achievements of Johnson’s NASA career, as well as those of other African-American NASA mathematicians.

During the ceremony, NASA officials also presented Johnson with a Space Flight Awareness Silver Snoopy Award. The Silver Snoopy goes to individuals who have made outstanding contributions to human spaceflight safety.

The Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility is scheduled to open in 2017. The 40,000-square-foot building will provide a consolidated data center and high-density office space. It is the third building in NASA Langley’s 20-year revitalization plan.

Video courtesy of NASA

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Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.

Reader Comments

“She also calculated the trajectory for the Apollo 11 Moon landing”

Most certainly not. Those calculations were done by computers. Most prominently by the LM’s AGC unit which took care of keeping the vehicle on the right descent path.

In fact, by the time the Apollo program’s progress was sufficiently advanced, closed loop control in real time was necessary for many more phases of flight.

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