NASA pioneer Katherine G. Johnson will deliver Hampton University’s commencement address on May 14.
According to The Daily Press, the 98-year-old will who lived in Hampton, Virginia, helped calculate — by hand — the computations that faciliated John Glenn’s orbit around Earth and Alan Shepard’s trip as the first American in space.
Johnson became a household last year name thanks to Margot Lee Shetterly’s book Hidden Figures and the Oscar-nominated film with the same name starring Taraji P Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monae.
The Daily Press noted that during a 2016 luncheon in Johnson’s honor, the skilled mathematician spoke about her iconic work.
“I did it because it’s what you do,” Johnson said at the time. “My job was to answer questions for people. For engineers. They were working on a problem and they would bring me the question. I would answer it. They took a certain amount of math in college and went into engineering. We worked entirely in mathematics. It was so much pure math. Pure geometry.”
And while the rest of the world may have not known how remarkable Johnson was prior to last year, former President Barack Obama sure did— he awarded her the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
“As an African-American woman, job options were limited —but she was eventually hired as one of several female mathematicians for the agency that would become NASA,” Obama said during the ceremony.
He added: “Katherine calculated the flight path for America’s first mission in space, and the path that put Neil Armstrong on the moon. She was even asked to double-check the computer’s math on John Glenn’s orbit around the Earth… In her 33 years at NASA, Katherine was a pioneer who broke the barriers of race and gender, showing generations of young people that everyone can excel in math and science, and reach for the stars.”
Hampton’s class of 2017 is pretty lucky to be blessed by such brilliance!