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Spacecraft Named After Famed NASA Mathematician, W.Va. Native Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson, seen here in 2008, calculated the trajectories for John Glenn's historic Friendship 7 mission.
Katherine Johnson, seen here in 2008, calculated the trajectories for John Glenn's historic Friendship 7 mission.

A new spacecraft headed to the International Space Station later this month will be named after NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, a native West Virginian.

“Her work at NASA quite literally launched Americans into space, and her legacy continues to inspire young black women every day,” Northrop Grumman wrote in a press release this week.

The company traditionally names each spacecraft after a person who played a pivotal role in human space flight.

Over her 33-year NASA career, Johnson’s calculations were critical to some of America’s great space achievements including John Glenn’s trip orbiting the Earth and the Apollo 11 moon landing.

“If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go,” Glenn notably said.

Johnson, a native of White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., received a degree in mathematics and French from West Virginia State College at the age of 18. She took every math class offered at the school.

After that, she was one of three Black students chosen to integrate West Virginia’s graduate school and the first Black woman to attend graduate school at West Virginia University.

In 2015, Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, the nation’s highest civilian honor. She passed away last year at the age of 101.


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