Welcome to the Katherine Johnson Memorial Challenge

The fifth challenge of the 2020 Series will be a 7-day challenge celebrating the life of Katherine Johnson. The challenge will be offered on the TRP-LLR application, beginning 24 July 20:00 UTC and ending 31 July 20:00 UTC.

Katherine Johnson was one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist. Her calculations on orbital mechanics proved vital to early crewed spaceflights. We highly recommend Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly, and the accompanying movie. With all the chaos going on in the world, this uplifting story is a nice change of pace.

Being handpicked to be one of three black students to integrate West Virginia’s graduate schools is something that many people would consider one of their life’s most notable moments, but it’s just one of several breakthroughs that have marked Katherine Johnson’s long and remarkable life. When asked to name her greatest contribution to space exploration, Johnson would talk about the calculations that helped synch Project Apollo’s Lunar Module with the lunar-orbiting Command and Service Module. She also worked on the Space Shuttle and the Earth Resources Technology Satellite (ERTS, later renamed Landsat) and authored or coauthored 26 research reports. She retired in 1986, after 33 years at Langley. “I loved going to work every single day,” she said. In 2015, at age 97, Johnson added another extraordinary achievement to her long list: President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor.

She died on Feb. 24, 2020. NASA Administrator James Bridenstine said, "Our NASA family is sad to learn the news that Katherine Johnson passed away this morning at 101 years old. She was an American hero and her pioneering legacy will never be forgotten."