This Black NASA Mathematician Was the Reason Many Astronauts Came Home — Their Life Depended on Her Calculations


In a 2011 interview with Virginia’s WHRO-TV, the human computer Katherine Johnson talks about her life as a young academic, her family and being a pioneer as one of the first Black people to work at NASA.

Johnson reveals that her calculations for trajectory of space craft take-offs and landings were so dependable that astronauts preferred her skill-set over that of the mechanical computers. In the early days of the space program, people were called computers because of the many mathematical equations they did.

In the 30-minute interview, Johnson tells the host how valuable she was at 14:20-15 minutes in:

“… John Glenn was to be the first astronaut to go into the atmosphere and come back. They wanted him to come back in a special place. And that is what I did,” Johnson says. “I computed his trajectory … And from then on any time they wanted to compute trajectories, they would give it to our branch … I did most of those by hand.”

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