The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is honoring the late Katherine Johnson by naming a spacecraft in her memory. Aerospace and defense engineering company Northrup Grummon announced that their new NG-15 Cygnus spacecraft will bear the name the SS Katherine Johnson, It will be used for an upcoming cargo delivery mission to the International Space Station.
President Barack Obama honored Katherine Johnson’s accomplishments with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. NASA has already acknowleged its debt to her by naming two facilities after her: the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility in Hampton, Virginia and the Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation Facility in Fairmont, West Virginia. The Oscar-winning movie Hidden Figures was loosely based on her exploits as a STEM heroine.
Artists and poets are seldom appreciated during their lifetimes. While Johnson was respected by her peers (John Glenn insisted she and no other double-check the computer’s calculations before he took off in his historic mission in Mercury-Atlas 6, as he trusted her math skills more than he trusted the IBM computer), she did not achieve the fame and respect she deserved until she was in her nineties.
The NG-15 Cygnus will probably not be the last spacecraft to be named for her, In a society that honors entertainers and athletes, it is important to honor artists, scientists, and scholars. If Reading Rainbow host and executive producer LeVar Burton can be honored as a Literacy Champion, it stands to reason that Katherine C. G. Johnson should be honored as a Mathematics Champion.