NASA Dedicates Facility to Mathematician, Presidential Medal Winner


NASA will commemorate the many contributions of retired mathematician Katherine Johnson to America’s space program during a building dedication ceremony on — the 55th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s historic rocket launch and splash down, which Johnson helped make possible. The ceremony will air live on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

At the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, the new Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility will formally be dedicated to the venerated mathematician and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient. Delivering the keynote at Thursday’s event will be Margot Lee Shetterly, author of the book Hidden Figures, which chronicles the many achievements of Johnson’s 33-year NASA career, as well as those of other African-American NASA mathematicians.

Johnson worked at Langley from 1953 until her retirement in 1986, beginning as a research mathematician — part of a pool of women hired to perform mathematical equations and calculations by hand for engineers. She quickly distinguished herself and was permanently assigned to the branch that would later calculate the launch windows for NASA’s first Project Mercury flights.

Notable accomplishments include her computation, by hand, of the launch window and trajectory for Alan Shepard’s maiden space voyage aboard Freedom 7 in 1961, and verification, also by hand, of calculations made by the first computers for John Glenn’s history-making orbit around the Earth in 1962. She also calculated the trajectory for the historic Apollo 11 first moon landing flight in 1969.

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