Astrophiz 111: Vale Katherine Johnson – Paving Apollo’s way to the moon and back
This episode is a special feature on the life achievements of Katherine Johnson, the African American mathematician who hand calculated many mission trajectories for NASA, including the iconic Apollo 11 mission. She lived to be 101, born in 1918 and passed away in February this year. She is remembered forever as an integral part of NASA history and for standing up for the rights of black Americans. In popular culture, she is portrayed lovingly in the film “Hidden Figures,” about pioneering black female aerospace workers, and her autobiography ‘Reaching for the moon’ is a best seller that was published just last year.
Katherine calculated the trajectory for the May 5, 1961 space flight of Alan Shepard, the first American in space. She also calculated the launch window for his 1961 Mercury mission. She plotted on board navigation charts carried by astronaut missions in case of system and comms failures. When NASA used electronic computers for the first time to calculate John Glenn’s orbit around Earth, Katherine was relied on to verify the computer’s numbers. John Glenn refused to fly unless Johnson verified the calculations ...