Here’s a story to inspire you on International Women’s Day. Katherine Johnson, in the 1960’s was an integral part of the space exploration team which orbited the earth. Until the book Hidden Figures and the film released last year, Katherine Johnson, received very little publicity. I never knew that the name we now use for machines was first used to describe people who did the job of processing data. Many of these “computers” were women. I reckon families need to know more about inspirational women like Katherine Johnson.
“Hidden Figures” looks at Johnson’s life and is based on the book by researcher Margot Shetterly who uncovers compelling insights into the era of space exploration and what it was like to live at that time.
Katherine counted everything from a young age. Her academic ability was astonishing and she completed a High School degree by the age of 10. At 18 Johnson held degrees in mathematics and although she was encouraged to do teaching, she went on to work in the defence industry, where she worked calculating highly important data.
Johnson’s work was to calculate data which was used by the white male aeronautical engineers to work out the location directly beneath a spacecraft at every moment of it’s voyage. The astronauts moved into the office next door to Katherine’s to begin training. They included John Glenn the first man to orbit the earth on 20 February 1962.
Glenn was worried before the big day and reportedly said “Get the girl to check the numbers”. He preferred to rely on Johnson’s calculations rather than the IBM machine which was going to be used to make sure he got home safely.
Her colleagues regarded her a “calculator” not a “thinker”, so she was not invited to participate in their meetings. Katherine was not happy to be working in another room and persisted, asking detailed questions about the research. Eventually, she was included in these discussions.
Glenn made it back to Earth and became a national hero. Johnson went on to do more vital work in the first moon landing and the space shuttle program.
Johnson turns 100 this August and finally received public recognition for her achievements in 2015, when she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama. This award is the highest honour to be awarded to a civilian.
For more information on Katherine Johnson, visit this link: