NASA Spacecraft Named After Katherine Johnson, Mathematician Depicted In ‘Hidden Figures’

Many Americans first became aware of Katherine Johnson when Taraji P. Henson portrayed her in the 2016 Oscar-nominated film “Hidden Figures.” Johnson passed away on Feb. 24, 2020, at the age of 101. She has rightfully become a renowned historical figure in recent years. In 2017, NASA named a research facility building for her, and in 2020, her home state of West Virginia recognized her birthday, Aug. 26, as Katherine Johnson Day.

Now, the barrier-breaking Black female mathematician’s name will travel to space. On Saturday, February 20, Northrop Grumman’s 15th commercial resupply services mission is scheduled to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. The craft making this delivery has been named the S.S. Katherine Johnson Cygnus spacecraft.

The global aerospace, defense, and security company recently shared the news on Twitter.

“In celebration of #BlackHistoryMonth,” Northrop Grumman tweeted, “we’re naming our next #Cygnus spacecraft in honor of an individual whose handwritten math launched the first Americans into space. Meet NG-15: the S.S. Katherine Johnson.”

In an official statement, Northrop Grumman noted that the company’s tradition is to name each Cygnus spacecraft after an individual who has played a pivotal role in human spaceflight. Johnson worked as a mathematician at NASA for 33 years. Her work was vital to the success of the first crewed space flights, such as the missions of Alan B. Shepard Jr., the first American in space in 1961, and Apollo 11, which landed on the moon in 1969.

“Johnson’s hand-written calculations were critical for John Glenn’s successful orbital mission around the Earth,” the aerospace company said in the statement. “Her work at NASA quite literally launched Americans into space, and her legacy continues to inspire young black women every day. Northrop Grumman is proud to celebrate the life of Katherine Johnson and her endlessly perseverant spirit.”

The S.S. Katherine Johnson is the second Cygnus to be named for a Black space pioneer. Northrop Grumman named the S.S. Robert Lawrence for the first African-American astronaut.