The Human Computer Behind Shepard, Glenn & the Apollo Moon Landing
As a (human) computer, Katherine Johnson calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American in space. Even after NASA began using electronic computers, John Glenn requested that she personally recheck the calculations made by the new electronic computers before his flight aboard Friendship 7 – the mission on which he became the first American to orbit the Earth. She continued to work at NASA until 1986 combining her math talent with electronic computer skills. 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 the country's journey into space.
Johnson began working as a mathematician for NASA/NACA in 1953. President Obama awarded her the National Medal of Freedom in 2015. The upcoming film "Hidden Figures" tells the story of Johnson and other female African-American mathematicians who worked at NASA in the early days of the space program. Text from a profile of Katherine Johnson by Yvette Smith for NASA.gov. Photo courtesy of NASA.
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