“One of Nasa’s “human computers”, who helped plan the mission that saw an American astronaut orbit the Earth for the first time, has opened a new research centre named in her honour.
The key contribution of Katherine Johnson, 99, and other African-American women to the US space programme was recounted in the film Hidden Figures, which gave overdue recognition to their work. The film was the highest grossing Best Picture nominee at the Oscars.
The maths involved in the orbital mission was highly complex, and the computers of the day were prone to technical hiccups.
So as astronaut John Glenn was going through the preflight checklist – upon which his life depended – he insisted that Ms Johnson double check the calculations.
“If she says they’re good,” Ms Johnson remembered Mr Glenn saying, “then I’m ready to go.”