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Northrop Grumman names cargo ship in honor of Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson is a famous NASA mathematician whose calculations helped send the first American astronaut into space and although she never made it to the final frontier, her name will.

Northrop Grumman, an aerospace and defense technology firm, announced it has named the NG-15 Cygnus cargo ship SS. Katherine Johnson.

The craft is set to launch to the International Space Station on February 20, marking the 59th anniversary of when Johnson’s calculations made it possible for John Glenn’s Mercury-Atlas 6 mission.

Northrop Grumman made the announcement in celebration of Black History month, saying it is ‘the company’s tradition to name each Cygnus spacecraft after an individual who has played a pivotal role in human spaceflight.’

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Northrop Grumman, an aerospace and defense technology firm, announced it has named the NG-15 Cygnus cargo ship SS. Katherine Johnson, the NASA mathematician that helped send the first American into space

Johnson, along with three other women, was largely forgotten until the book ‘Hidden Figures’ was released in 2017 by author Margot Lee Shetterly.

The book was made into a popular movie that same year and Jackson’s character was played by actress Taraji P. Henson, which highlights her work with follow NASA employees Mary Jackson and Dorothy Vaughan.

Johnson was hired by NASA’s precursor organization, National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, in 1953.

She and other black women worked in the segregated computing unit at what is now called Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

The craft is set to launch to the International Space Station on February 20, marking the 59th anniversary of when Johnson's calculations made it possible for John Glenn's Mercury-Atlas 6 mission

The craft is set to launch to the International Space Station on February 20, marking the 59th anniversary of when Johnson’s calculations made it possible for John Glenn’s Mercury-Atlas 6 mission

Johnson joined Project Mercury, the nation’s first human space program, that year as one of the so-called ‘computers’ who calculated rocket trajectories and earth orbits by hand, using a pencil and slide rule.

‘Our office computed all the (rocket) trajectories,’ Johnson told The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in 2012.

‘You tell me when and where you want it to come down, and I will tell you where and when and how to launch it.’

In 1961, Johnson did trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 Mission, the first to carry an American into space.

In 1962, she manually verified calculations by a nascent NASA computer for astronaut John Glenn’s groundbreaking orbital mission as the US beat the Soviet Union (USSR) in the Space Race.

‘Get the girl to check the numbers,’ a computer-skeptical Glenn had insisted in the days before the launch.

Seven years later Johnson calculated the precise trajectories that allowed the Apollo 11 mission to land on the moon in 1969 before the world watched Neil Armstrong’s historic moonwalk.

Johnson considered her work on the Apollo moon missions to be her greatest contribution to space exploration.

She also worked on the Space Shuttle program before retiring in 1986.

After leaving her career in space, Johnson spent her time encouraging students to embark on their own journeys in fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

Johnson and her black colleagues had been relatively unsung heroes of America’s Space Race until 2015, when President Barack Obama awarded Johnson – then 97 – the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

The S.S. Katherine Johnson is planned to sit atop the firm's Antares rocket for the journey to the International Space Station. The cargo ship will hold a 8,200-pound payload that includes experiments and supplies for the Expedition 64 crew aboard the orbiting laboratory

The S.S. Katherine Johnson is planned to sit atop the firm’s Antares rocket for the journey to the International Space Station. The cargo ship will hold a 8,200-pound payload that includes experiments and supplies for the Expedition 64 crew aboard the orbiting laboratory

Johnson died at the age of 1010 on February 24, 2020.

‘Her work at NASA quite literally launched Americans into space and her legacy continues to inspire young black women every day,’ Northrop Grumman said.

‘Northrop Grumman is proud to celebrate the life of Katherine Johnson and her endlessly perseverant spirit.’

The S.S. Katherine Johnson is planned to sit atop the firm’s Antares rocket for the journey to the International Space Station.

The cargo ship will hold a 8,200-pound payload that includes experiments and supplies for the Expedition 64 crew aboard the orbiting laboratory.


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