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Math and Science Week!
Katherine Johnson (b. 1918) is a former NASA physicist, space scientist, and mathematician of African-American heritage.
She worked at Langley Research Centre from 1953 to 1986 as a “computer” - i.e. someone who did the math to make sure the rockets would lift off OK.
NASA’s Researcher News says:
"We wrote our own textbook, because there was no other text about space," she says. "We just started from what we knew. We had to go back to geometry and figure all of this stuff out. Inasmuch as I was in at the beginning, I was one of those lucky people."
That luck came in large part because she was no stranger to geometry. It was only natural that she calculate the trajectory of Alan Shepherd’s 1961 trip into space, America’s first.
"The early trajectory was a parabola, and it was easy to predict where it would be at any point," Johnson says. "Early on, when they said they wanted the capsule to come down at a certain place, they were trying to compute when it should start. I said, ‘Let me do it. You tell me when you want it and where you want it to land, and I’ll do it backwards and tell you when to take off.’ That was my forte."
More flights became more complicated, with more variables involving place and rotation of Earth and the moon for orbiting. By the time John Glenn was to go up to orbit the Earth, NASA had gone to computers.
"You could do much more, much faster on computer," Johnson says. "But when they went to computers, they called over and said, ‘tell her to check and see if the computer trajectory they had calculated was correct.’ So I checked it and it was correct.”
That’s right - NASA didn’t trust their computers until they matched up with this lady’s work.
It’s worth noting, though, that there were other women, including Black women, in the computing team. Johnson was one of many people, of all races and sexes, working to make the space program succeed.
Science doesn’t just happen ‘cos of one or two geniuses. Like everything else, it takes a village.
(via wastinglittlemoments)Source: medievalpoc