Katherine Johnson

The Fempire Strikes Back: Meet the Women Who Slayed the Astronomy Game and Charted the Stars

The commercial and critical success of 2016’s Hidden Figures drew much-needed attention to the all-but-forgotten, amazing tale of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, and the other NASA “computers” who played a significant role in America sending men into space- which is both needed and thrilling…but what if I told you that they weren’t the first women to defy the odds and revolutionize their field of study?

It’s true. In the late 1800’s, the Harvard Observatory was busy amassing photographic plates of the stars – not only from North America, but Peru, South Africa, New Zealand, and Chile. In the Andes, Harvard astronomers ferried the plates packed in crates down a mountain on the backs of mules. Once the data returned to Harvard, Edward Pickering, the man in charge of the Observatory, realized he would need a ton of help to catalogue and analyze the massive influx.

But that’s not the surprising part. The surprising part is, in the 1880s, he collected a team of women to do the job.

Pickering had an undergraduate degree from Harvard and left to teach physics at MIT for a brief stint before returning as the director of the Harvard College Observatory in 1877. It didn’t take long for him to grow frustrated with his male staff, who he felt was lacking in performance and innovation. Legend has it that he said his maid could do a better job – so he hired her (truly!) to oversee his new, all-female team of computers.

The majority of these women came with college…

The International Space Station Will Have Its First African-American Crewmember

January 2017 has been a very good month for the American space program. First there was the premiere of the movie Hidden Figures, which celebrates the incredible minds and achievements of NASA legends Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. Now, on the heels of the film’s release, NASA has announced that Jeanette J. Epps will soon become the first African-American crewmember of the International Space Station (ISS).

Epps has been working toward this moment for a very long time, from her doctorate in physics and aerospace engineering to a seven-year stint as a technical intelligence officer with the CIA [PDF]. She joined NASA in 2009 as part of the agency’s 20th class of astronauts, and…

get to know Katherine Johnson The Inspiration Behind the Movie “Hidden Figures”

With an all-star cast including Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monáe, Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, and Jim Parsons – not to mention a compelling storyline set during the first manned NASA shuttle launch – Hidden Figures is set to wow audiences, critics, and is likely to earn some hefty award show nominations, if not wins.

But did you know that the movie is based on a true story?

Well, it is, and at the heart of that story is a woman named Katherine Johnson.

She was born a farmer’s daughter in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia, where school for African-Americans stopped at 8th grade. But Katherine’s father father instilled a sense of equality in her from an early age, driving his children to school 120 miles away so they could continue their education.

“My dad taught us ‘you are as good as anybody in this town, but you’re no better.’ I don’t have a feeling of inferiority. Never had. I’m as good as anybody, but no better.”

Perhaps not better, but definitely smarter, as it turned out.

From the time she was little, Katherine loved counting things – anything and everything, and she had no mind or inclination to stop.

“I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed…anything that could be counted, I did.”

Katherine graduated from high school at the age of 14 and went on to college,…