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Katherine Johnson, 'hidden figure' at NASA during 1960s space race, dies at 101


<b>Katherine Johnson, 'hidden figure' at NASA during 1960s space race, dies at 101</b>Long overlooked Mathematician, she became the subject of a book and hit movie in her 90s.
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Katherine G. Johnson developed equations that helped the NACA and its successor, NASA, send astronauts into orbit and, later, to the moon. In 26 signed reports for the space agency, and in many more papers that bore others’ signatures on her work, she codified mathematical principles that remain at the core of manned space travel. Katherine Johnson, one of the "human computers" hired to perform vital and complex calculations for NASA's early space flights, was virtually unknown to the public for most of her life. In September 2016, Margot Lee Shetterly released her book 'Hidden Figures', which was later adapted as a film, featuring Taraji Penda Henson. The story chronicles the histories of the many African-American women who helped America launch ahead in the space race, and broadcasted Johnson's pioneering contributions far and wide. In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2017, NASA opened a sprawling, state-of-the-art facility named in Johnson's honor: the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility. The $23-million Computational Research Facility spans 37,000-square-feet and will be used to advance "Langley's capabilities in modeling and simulation, big data and analysis." Johnson was on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony, which was attended by her family and friends, former NASA "human computers," and students from students from Black Girls Code, among others. In 1962, as NASA prepared for the orbital mission of John Glenn, Johnson was called upon to do the work that she would become most known for. The complexity of the orbital flight had required the construction of a worldwide communications network, linking tracking stations around the world to IBM computers in Washington, Cape Canaveral in Florida, and Bermuda. The computers had been programmed with the orbital equations that would control the trajectory of the capsule in Glenn's Friendship 7 mission from liftoff to splashdown, but the astronauts were wary of putting their lives in the care of the electronic calculating machines, which were prone to hiccups and blackouts. As a part of the pre-flight checklist, Glenn asked engineers to "get the girl" --Johnson-- to run the same numbers through the same equations that had been programmed into the computer, but by hand, on her desktop mechanical calculating machine. "If she says they're good, then I'm ready to go", the astronaut said. John Glenn's flight was a success, and marked a turning point in the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union in space.

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