Wed, 23 Jan, 2019

Katherine Johnson

By Ashmita Thapa

Katherine Johnson, born in 26th of August 1918, is an American physicist, space scientist, and mathematician. She made fundamental contributions to the United States' aeronautics and space programs with the early application of digital electronic computers at NASA.  She grew up in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

She is most commonly known as the girl who loved to count and was also known as “The Human Computer”. She was born in an era where racism and sexism were prevalent. Katherine was, however, a bold and determined lady who knew her talents and outgrew all other social beliefs. She broke all the barriers she came across and made her own way to NASA.

“I counted everything. I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to the church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed … anything that could be counted, I did.”  Said Katherine, who also received a National Medal of Freedom in 2015.

Even after NASA began using electronic computers, John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, requested that she personally recheck the calculations made by the new electronic computers before his flight aboard Friendship 7. She also calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American in space.  This proves her excellence and efficiency with calculations. She was as good as any machine during her time. She continued to work at NASA until 1986; combining her mathematical talents with electronic computer skills to achieve outstanding success. Her calculations proved as critical to the success of the Apollo Moon landing program and the start of the Space Shuttle program, as they did to those first steps on America's journey into space.

Johnson has led a life positively littered with honors, such as pioneering work in the field of navigation problems, supporting the five spacecraft that orbited and mapped the moon preparing for the Apollo program. She received honorary doctorates to the 1967 NASA Lunar Orbiter Spacecraft and Operations team award. On November 24, 2015, she received the nation's highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Barack H. Obama.

Knowing her life story and the fact that Katherine Johnson was born on August 26: Women's Equality Day, makes you wonder if that is just a coincidence or not.  

Image: nasa.gov