Celebrating Katherine Johnson: A Pillar in Space Exploration 

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No name rings a bell behind space exploration scenes like Katherine Johnson: Katherine is the leading force behind launch calculations for the first man bound mission to space. Katherine was one of the lead scientists tasked with finalizing estimates for the launch event.  Johnson was part of NASA’s human-computer team. These were select individuals — particularly women— to work out complicated calculations for scientific research before computers evolved—these included complex fields such as astronomy and navigation. 

Johnson is remembered to have shined through as a Black woman in a racially divided America; Johnson reflects the story of black heroes who struggled to overcome various obstacles in a color recessed America. However, Johnson fought so that she could earn support from a vast number of white NASA workers.  While talking about the launch plans, Johnson famously said,” Tell me where you would like the man to land, and I will say where to send him up.”  Johnsons’ role was iconic as engineers tasked to provide the proposed landing point while she told them where to launch and which point to aim at. 

Among other feats in Johnson’s repertoire is Alan Shepard’s launch to space. Alan was wrapped in an almost unlikely little pod and sent in the Freedom 7 mission to explore in the vibration filled voyage. Mission reports show that Shepherd’s mission was successful, and he managed to return safely, courtesy of Johnson’s invaluable input. The historic flight became a significant foundation in America’s ultimate objective of an orbit targeting flight. 

In 1961, the Freedom 7 mission sent Alan Shepard packed in an almost impossibly tiny capsule, hurtling up into space; thanks to Johnson, he also safely came down. The historic flight would prove an essential step toward the ultimate goal of sending an American to orbit Earth.

Among other feats in Johnson’s repertoire is Alan Shepard’s launch to space. Alan was wrapped in an almost unlikely little pod and sent in the Freedom 7 mission to explore in the vibration filled voyage. Mission reports show that Shepherd’s mission was successful, and he managed to return safely, courtesy of Johnson’s invaluable input. The historic flight became a significant foundation in America’s ultimate objective of an orbit targeting flight.

Johnson’s crucial participation in ensuring safe human spaceflight made her known at that time in NASA and in NASA’s close-knit African American community.  She is widely known along the Virginia Hampton Roads. A large number of people associated with her were her colleagues in the Langley research facility at NASA. Johnson’s reputation was largely underappreciated throughout the nation and the world in general. However, at 101, she recognized her work and later became a household name when she died this year. Famous actress Taraji P. Henson depicts Johnson’s character in the 2016 film adaptation of Margot Lee Shetterly’s top-selling novel, Hidden Figures. Come 2015, Johnson was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom for her contribution to space exploration. 

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