For decades, the legacy of aerospace technologist Katherine Johnson went unseen, leaving a gap in one of the most historic events in the United States.
Now, Johnson will be honored by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the very same organization where she made her heroic contribution. CNN reported that the Independent Verification and Validation Facility has been renamed the Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation Facility (IV&V Facility).
“The facility’s program contributes to the safety and success of NASA’s highest-profile missions by assuring that mission software performs correctly,” the space agency said in a statement.
During her time at NASA, Johnson, 100, hand-calculated the trajectory of America’s first manned trip to space. She worked alongside other African-American women in the 1950s whose calculations were relied on heavily, as there were no computers that could make the predictions for them. Johnson, who was a child prodigy due to her uncanny calculations, worked with the Computer Pool to calculate innovative and successful space missions. One of Johnson’s most notable calculations was the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit in 1962. The calculations made Glenn the first American to orbit Earth and turned around the Space Race, which lasted from 1955-1975.
Johnson’s work was unnoticed by the general public until the movie Hidden Figures debuted in 2016. The film starring Taraji P. Henson as Johnson shows the racial injustices that occurred for black women who worked for NASA during the 1950s and 1960s. Hidden Figures also depicts Johnson’s journey to finding the correct calculations for Glenn’s launch. The movie also stars Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae as NASA mathematicians Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, respectively. After record-breaking box office success, the film received multiple accolades, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture.
Katherine Johnson’s tremendous work with NASA will leave a mark on our history for decades to come. Congratulations on this well-deserved achievement. https://t.co/ujRKP94bq2
— Kamala Harris (@KamalaHarris) February 23, 2019
Henson spoke about the importance of telling Johnson’s story to W Magazine in 2017.
“I read the script and I just remember thinking, ‘how come I’ve never heard this story before? How come no one knows?'” the What Men Want star said. “I started asking, ‘Have you ever heard of these women? Ever heard of Katherine Johnson? Did you know women had anything to do with the great race to space?’ And the answer kept coming up, ‘no,’ and I was angry because this is a very important piece of history that we should know. I did not know that that was a dream that I could have.”
The facility is in Johnson’s hometown of West Virginia, where she currently resides. It is reported that there will be a rededication ceremony once the renaming takes place.