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NASA Legend To Be Inducted Into National Aviation Hall Of Fame Class of 2024 and Into The Women In Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame Class of 2024

Words and Image courtesy of Fred Outten.

Nominated by The Last Episode: Veterans For Social Justice (VFSJ), led by Howard University alumnus Fred Outten, NASA’s legendary Katherine Johnson (August 26, 1918 – February 24, 2020), was chosen to be inducted (posthumously) into the National Aviation Hall of Fame’s prestigious Class of 2024. The 60th Annual Enshrinement ceremony will take place in Dayton, Ohio on September 14, 2024, at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. Also nominated by VFSJ, Katherine Johnson was chosen to be inducted (posthumously) into the Women in Aviation International (WAI) Pioneer Hall of Fame for the Class of 2024. The WAI Pioneer Hall of Fame inductees will be honored at the 35th Annual Women in Aviation International Conference during a ceremony and celebration dinner at the Orlando World Center Marriott on Saturday, March 23, 2024.

Founded in 1962, the National Aviation Hall of Fame (NAHF) has been a symbol of excellence in aviation and space exploration. With 262 distinguished honorees inducted, it stands as the only Congressionally chartered aviation hall of fame in the United States. A dynamic panel of over 130 aviation professionals from across the nation constitutes the NAHF Board of Nominations. Each year, they face the arduous task of selecting the most deserving air and space pioneers for induction. Katherine Johnson will finally take her well-deserved place by joining them in 2024!

The Women in Aviation International Pioneer Hall of Fame was established in 1992 to honor women who have made significant contributions as record-setters, pioneers, or innovators. With over 17,000 members worldwide, WAI is the largest organization in the world dedicated to increasing the number of women working in all areas of aviation and aerospace. Special consideration for the Hall of Fame is given to individuals or groups who have helped other women be successful in aviation or opened doors of opportunity for other women. Each year, the organization solicits nominations from throughout the aviation industry for the WAI Pioneer Hall of Fame. Katherine Johnson will also finally take her well-deserved place here by joining them in 2024!

To celebrate and uplift the anniversary of what would have been Katherine Johnson’s 105th Birthday on August 26, 2023, VFSJ collectively dedicated the entire year to bringing further recognition to the tremendous achievements of Katherine Johnson. The nomination of Katherine Johnson for the National Aviation Hall of Fame, and her nomination for the Women in Aviation International (WAI) Pioneer Hall of Fame are perfect fits to continue her legacy. Previously, VFSJ dedicated an original special music CD tribute, “Has Anybody Seen Katherine Johnson,” that brings further awareness to her life, historic and pioneering accomplishments, and contributions to our nation and indeed the world.

Katherine Johnson, a brilliant African American mathematician known as Woman of the 20th Century, was a child protégé who reached high school at age 10, entered college at age 15, and graduated at age 18 in 1937, summa cum laude from West Virginia State College (HBCU) with Bachelor of Science degrees in both mathematics and French with the highest grade point average of any previous student in the school’s history.  Ms. Johnson started her career as a teacher, but later began her stellar 33-year career in aviation and aerospace upon her arrival at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in 1953, later to become NASA. It is said that the Wright Brothers’ and Katherine Johnson’s contributions to aviation are forever linked!

One of her first assignments from engineers at NACA involved solving an accident involving a small Piper propeller plane that literally fell out of the clear blue sky. Her endless hours/days/weeks and months of research using data and calculations led to the discovery that the Piper had flown perpendicularly across the flight path of a jet plane that had just passed through the area, something unseen by engineers before. The wake vortex of the larger plane had acted like an invisible trip wire: upon crossing the rough river of air left behind by the jet, the propeller plane stumbled in mid-air and tumbled out of the sky. Katherine Johnson’s research and other investigations like it led to permanent changes in air traffic regulations mandating minimum distances between flight paths to prevent wake turbulence accidents, saving countless lives globally.

Katherine Johnson’s mathematical genius was crucial in helping the United States win the Space Race with the then number one world power Soviet Union and in answering President John F. Kennedy’s call to land a man on the moon and return him safely home. At NASA, Katherine Johnson’s unprecedented mathematical calculations of orbital mechanics, calculating trajectories, were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S.-crewed spaceflights, including the Apollo missions. Katherine Johnson calculated trajectory for Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 mission in 1961, the first U.S. human spaceflight by an individual from the United States. She was asked to verify the calculations when electronic computers at NASA were used to calculate John Glenn’s historic three-orbital mission on Friendship 7 in 1962 and his safe return to earth. Glenn asked that Johnson hand-check the trajectory equations input into the IBM 7090 computer and is quoted, “Get the girl to check the numbers.” If she says the numbers are good, he told them, I’m ready to go!  Johnson helped to calculate the trajectory for the historic first successful crewed 1969 Apollo 11 Moon landing and their safe return to earth, and she contributed calculations to the parking orbit of Apollo 11’s command and service module.

Katherine Johnson’s achievements, as well as those of her African American “human computer” colleagues at NACA/NASA including Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Christine Darden, are chronicled in a landmark book, the 2016 non-fiction publication, Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly. The Academy Award-nominated film “Hidden Figures” about her life was released in December 2016. President Barack Obama presented Katherine Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom on November 24, 2015, the highest civilian award of the United States, for her pioneering legacy. In 2019, Johnson received the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor (Public Law 116-68), Congress’ highest award. Katherine Johnson spent the latter years of her career working on the Space Shuttle program and Earth Resources Satellite. Katherine Johnson’s work continues to be utilized to this day to further the continued success of space exploration including our quest to reach Mars.

Katherine Johnson communicated her life story in an insightful book, Katherine Johnson, My Remarkable Journey, A Memoir, along with her two daughters, Joylette Hylick and Katherine Moore, released in 2021 after her passing. Her Memoir chronicles not only her work at NASA, but her life as a mother to three daughters, as a loving wife, and as one very active in her community as an inspiring academic teacher, playing and teaching piano, singing in her church choir, and among other activities, joining a local chapter of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. After retiring, Katherine Johnson continued to share her knowledge and invest in our youth by visiting classrooms and by speaking engagements to promote STEM – science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

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