NASA Finally Honors Barrier-Breaking Math Genius Katherine Johnson

Widespread recognition came late for Katherine Johnson, one of the mathematicians featured in the 2016 movie “Hidden Figures.’’

Now the accolades are pouring in.

Johnson, who along with other African-American women had to overcome racial and gender discrimination to rise through the ranks of NASA in the 1950s and ’60s, has received another major distinction with the naming of one of the agency’s buildings in her honor.

The Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation Facility in Fairmont, West Virginia – her native state – houses programs that help safeguard NASA’s highest-profile missions by making sure software operates properly, according to the agency’s website.

The building was renamed over the weekend at the urging of a congressional bill signed into law by President Donald Trump in December.

“I am thrilled we are honoring Katherine Johnson in this way as she is a true American icon who overcame incredible obstacles and inspired so many,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said. “It’s a fitting tribute to name the facility that carries on her legacy of mission-critical computations in her honor.”

The story of the barrier-breaking achievements by Johnson and fellow black mathematicians Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson was captured in the 2016 book “Hidden Figures” and the Academy Award-nominated movie of the same name.

At a time of widespread segregation and male dominance, when black employees had to eat in separate facilities and use different bathrooms than their white peers, Johnson and her colleagues were referred to as “colored computers’’ or “computers in skirts.’’

Though often overlooked, their skills were vital to NASA’s success.

During a 35-year career at NASA and its predecessor, NACA, Johnson provided calculations for several space missions, most notably verifying the results churned out by electronic computers to calculate the orbit for John Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission.

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SOURCE: USA Today, Jorge L. Ortiz

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