She was an exceptional mathematician and was known as a human computer at NASA – The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which is world-famous American space agency that has led many space programmes.
Katherine Johnson was the first (black – as in her colour of her skin) mathematician to guide the first manned spaceflights and also the first Moon in America (and the world) that were led by NASA.
Who was Katherine?
Born in West Virginia (a state in America)in 1918 , Katherine loved math. And it was her love for math that finally too her to NASA.
Here’s a little story
In 1961 an astronaut named John Glenn was the first American to orbit the Earth. Before the launch of his mission , he wasn’t sure that the calculations of his capsule landing back into a specific spot in the ocean would happen. They knew that if he would land wrongly on land , he would die and one wrong landing angle would bounce him back into the atmosphere. They were also scared because the weather and other failure’s had already delayed the launch many times.
Glenn wouldn’t trust the calculations made by the computers as he believed more in the calculations made by Katherine. He asked her to recalculate the landing and check whether he would safely land into the right spot . Katherine was given a difficult job as she had to calculate the timely rotation of the Earth but she did it brilliantly as after his mission Glenn successfully landed in the exact spot that Katherine had predicted!
These calculations helped Neil Armstrong , the first man to land on the moon in 1969, return to Earth safely !
She was one of the few African American women to have successfully worked in NASA. Before NASA was called NACA and in those times Americans treated African Americans differently. That meant that Katherine was not treated equally at work . She faced many hardships but never gave up. She’s one of the few women to have won the Presidential Award for Freedom given to her by President Obama.
She passed away on 24th February, 2020 in a retirement home at the age of 101.
There is a book and a movie about her. It is called ‘Hidden figures’, which is an Oscar nominated movie!
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