Born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia in August 1918, Katherine Johnson went from being a girl who loved to count everything to a woman who did mathematical calculations for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the precursor to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).

Johnson graduated from high school at the age of 14 and college four years later.

katherine_johnson_john_glenn.pngIn 1953 she was one of many African-American women hired by the NACA to measure and calculate results from wind tunnel tests. The women who performed the tedious and precise work were called “computers” and filled the growing demand of the aeronautic program’s need of space research.

During her career as a “computer” Johnson made technical contributions to some of NACA/NASA pioneering achievements. In 1961 she calculated the trajectory that would make Alan Shepard the first American in space. John Glenn requested that Johnson personally recheck the calculations made by the electronic computers prior to his 1969 Friendship 7 mission in which he became the first American to orbit the Earth. Her precise calculations were critical to the success of the Apollo Moon landing and the beginning of the Space Shuttle program.

The accolades did not stop when she retired from NASA in 1986. In November 2015 Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.[1] The following year NASA commemorated Johnson’s contributions to the space program by dedicating the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility. The dedication ceremony took place on May 5th, the 55th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s unprecedented mission that would not have taken place without the assistance of “computers” like Johnson.[2]

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Hidden Treasures is a newly released movie based on the work that Johnson and other African-American women “computers” did for the space agency. The movie was inspired by the book of the same name written by Margot Lee Shetterly, the daughter of a NASA Langley researcher.[3]

jemison.jpgJohnson and other aeronautic hidden treasures were one of many cobblestones that paved the way for Mae Jemison to be the first African American woman to travel into space.

Born in Decatur, AL in 1956, Jemison graduated from a Chicago high school in 1973. In 1977 she earned a BS in Chemical Engineering, as well as a BA in African and Afro-American Studies, from Stanford. Jemison earned a doctorate in medicine from Cornell University in 1981.[4]

Jemison, who was inspired by astronaut Sally Ride, joined NASA in 1987 after serving as a Peace Corp physician.

In September 1992 the Space Shuttle Endeavour went on its second flight, which was a cooperative mission between the United States and Japan. In addition to being a member of the crew, the mission made Jemison the first African American woman in space. During the mission she worked on a bone cell research experiment as a Mission Specialist.

Since leaving the s5313968_orig.jpgpace agency in 1993 Jemison has taught at Dartmouth College and started her own company, the Jemison Group, that works on sustainable energy development projects and facilitates health care delivery in West Africa via satellite-based telecommunications.

Star Trek’s Lt. Uhura and the actress who played her, Nichelle Nichols, inspired Jemison when she was growing up. Jemison followed in Uhuraʻs footsteps by making a guest appearance in Star Trek: The Next Generation. [5]

These pioneering women have and will continue to inspire a new generation of young women to enter into STEM/STEAM related fields of study.

[1] (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/feature/katherine-johnson-the-girl-who-loved-to-count

[2] (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature/mathematician-katherine-johnson-at-work

[3] (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/feature/langley/langley-s-hollywood-moment-sheds-light-on-pioneers-reflects-inspiration-for-youth

[4] (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.jsc.nasa.gov/Bios/htmlbios/jemison-mc.html

[5] (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/space-flight-news/the-worlds-top-6-female-astronauts-inspiring-girls-young-women-to-reach-for-the-stars/#JrVRCXMy6xfTB88K.99

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