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  • EDITION VII. Issue 8. ***EXCLUSIVE STORY ON GCDS TRANSITION***

NASA’s Newest “Johnson” Facility Honors Hidden Figure

Juliette O'Hara, Reporter

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NEWSROOM – In late September, NASA opened a new research location named the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility.

The new facility honors Katherine Johnson, who is now 99 years old.  Johnson was one of the few people who worked for NASA as a “human computer.”  She was a trailblazer who performed difficult calculations needed for their early space flights in the 1960s.

Johnson and her work were virtually unrecognizable to the public until last year when the movie, Hidden Figures, was released.  Hidden Figures was based on the true story behind Johnson’s work at NASA during the space race between Russia and the United States.  The film also showcases Katherine’s struggle with sexism and segregation. In the movie, Johnson is portrayed by Taraji P. Henson.  The film was also a Best Picture nominee at the Oscars.  This year, Johnson was again acknowledged in a huge way.  

After learning that she would have the unique honor of having a brand new NASA research facility named after her, Johnson remained very humble.

“You want my honest answer?  I think they’re crazy,” she is quoted as saying in several news sources.  She also said that the decision “gives credit to everybody who helped.”

The new facility, according to a public statement from NASA, will be used to improve their “capabilities in modeling and simulation, big data and analysis.”  It is a “state-of-the-art facility that will enable innovative research and development supporting NASA’s missions.”

One of the most defining moments of her career was when she helped to calculate the return trajectory for Alan Shepard in 1961.  Shepard was one of NASA’s first seven astronauts.  The mission was a success and he became the first American in space in a suborbital flight.

Another one of the first astronauts at NASA, John Glenn, was worried about his safety just before the Friendship 7 mission.  Glenn specifically asked for Johnson to check the calculations, since the machines used by NASA at the time were prone to malfunctioning.  The mission if successful, would make him the first American to orbit the Earth.

Johnson calculated the trajectory for Glenn’s mission into space on the Friendship 7 in 1962.  The mission was successful and put America back in the space race against Russia.

Johnson’s role at NASA was groundbreaking for African Americans and women and there’s no doubt that her hard-work continues to inspire others today.

Story by Juliette O’Hara, Reporter

Edited by Maeve Sebold, Editor in Chief

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NASA’s Newest “Johnson” Facility Honors Hidden Figure