Katherine Johnson, the retired NASA mathematician whose life journey was depicted on screen in the acclaimed film “Hidden Figures,” is being recognized by the space agency in a huge way.
NASA’s Independent Verification and Validation Facility (IV&V) in Fairmont, West Virginia, has been renamed to honor Johnson, whose mathematical calculations played an essential role in the space race. As a Black woman, Johnson led a distinguished career in the agency as a “human computer” during a time when racial segregation was prevalent and the important roles in the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (which would later become NASA) were mostly filled by white men.
The book and adapted screenplay “Hidden Figures” follows the accomplishments of Johnson and other African-American mathematicians, including Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughn.
“I am thrilled we are honoring Katherine Johnson in this way, as she’s a true American icon who overcame incredible obstacles and inspired so many,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a press release Friday. “It’s a fitting tribute to name the facility that carries on her legacy of mission-critical computations in her honor.”
The West Virginia native, who turned 100 years old last August, is credited with calculating orbital trajectories for the first crewed space flights, the space shuttle and the lunar lander, Gizmodo reported. According to NASA, it was Ms. Johnson who calculated the trajectory for astronaut Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 Mission on 1961. She would later go on to verify the electronic calculations for John Glenn’s successful Friendship 7 mission into a space, a feat that cemented her place in history.
Her work didn’t stop there, however. Johnson continued to provide calculations for NASA throughout her career, including for several Apollo missions, the agency said.
“It’s an honor the NASA IV&V Program’s primary facility now carries Katherine Johnson’s name,” said NASA IV&V Program Director Gregory Blaney. “It’s a way for us to recognize Katherine’s career and contributions not just during Black History Month, but every day, every year.”
IV&V facilities like the one named after the famed mathematician are home to the agency’s IV&V program, which was established to ensure critical mission software for NASA’s “highest-profile missions” are working correctly.
In 2018, Congress approved a bill allowing for the facility to be renamed and was later signed into law by President Donald Trump. This is the second facility to be named in Johnson’s honor, the first being the Katherine Johnson Computational Research Facility at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. That building was dedicated in September 2017.
Johnson was also presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by former President Barack Obama in 2015.