If you were to turn the pages of history to seek out those who contributed to the advanced path of life we are on today, of the many names one would be of the “Human Computer” Katherine Johnson. Over the past century, it was her work that played a key role in advancements in science and space travel. But, unfortunately, she is not among us anymore. On 24th February 2020, the brilliant NASA mathematician passed away, at the age of 101.
It was her calculations that helped the first Americans to get to space and back safely
While NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson has many accomplishments to her name, her completing the trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s 1961 suborbital flight was a phenomenal point in history as it led to the US sending a human into space for the first time ever!
“Ms. Johnson helped our nation enlarge the frontiers of space even as she made huge strides that also opened doors for women and people of color,” NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. “Her dedication and skill as a mathematician helped put humans on the Moon and before that made it possible for our astronauts to take the first steps in space that we now follow on a journey to Mars.”
But despite her excellence, Katherine Johnson’s work of over 33 years, which was the reason behind many of America’s breakthroughs in space exploration, weren’t recognized at the time they were practically rewriting history. Like many other brilliant minds, Johnson suffered for being a woman. When she started at The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in 1953, she was made to work in a segregated wing with other black women mathematicians.
But there was no denying the crucial importance of Johnson’s contributions
Though it happened decades later, Johnson’s great works were recognized in 2015 and she was honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor to be bestowed on civilians, from President Barack Obama.
In one of her interviews, Katherine Johnson famously advised young engineers to “do your best, but like it” and “if you don’t like it, shame on you.”
“I like work. I like the stars and the stories we were telling and it was a joy to contribute to the literature that was going to be coming out. But little did I think it would go this far,” Johnson had added.