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Saturday’s scheduled NASA moon rocket launch would not be possible without the expertise of the Black mathematician Katherine Johnson.
The Saturday launch is a reschedule of a halted test flight from earlier this week after NASA said the rocket was experiencing engine trouble.
The 322-foot rocket is part of NASA’s Artemis moon exploration program, with the price tag for this test flight alone coming in at $4.1 billion.
The test flight will attempt to send the rocket to the moon, where a capsule filled with three test dummies will orbit around the moon before returning back to Earth. If successful, it will be the first capsule to fly to the moon in over 50 years.
NASA Has Katherine Johnson To Thank For Moon Programs
Of course, none of NASA’s moon exploration programs would have been possible without the brilliance of Katherine Johnson, or at least not as early on.
Johnson worked for NASA as a “human calculator” for over 30 years, beginning in the late 1950s. It was Katherine Johnson who calculated the first moon landing and the space shuttle program at NASA.
In 2015, at the age of 97, President Barack Obama awarded Ms. Johnson the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In a speech that same year to the Congressional Black Caucus, President Obama noted, “Black women have been a part of every great movement in American history—even if they weren’t always given a voice.”
Johnson passed away in 2020 at the age of 101.
Before she passed, Johnson saw a $30 million, 40,000 square foot computational research center dedicated by NASA in her honor in 2016. NASA regularly gave Johnson credit for her contributions to flight safety, and was always sure to include other Black women in her success, particularly her colleagues Dorothy Vaughan, Margery Hannah, and Christine Darden.
“I do thank you so much for your attention, for your kindness, but more than that, I’m so happy to see you giving more recognition to women for the work that they have done,” Johnson said at the time.
Johnson’s work at NASA paved the way for Black women’s involvement in space exploration. It was only 30 years ago that NASA astronaut Mae Jemison became the first Black woman to travel to space.
During 2022, Jessica Watkins became the first Black woman to live and work on the International Space Station for an extended mission.
So, as a new era of moon exploration begins this weekend, let’s not forget the pioneering Black woman we have to thank for it.