Katherine Johnson, the NASA Legend Who Inspired 'Hidden Figures,' Dies at Age 101

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Mathematician and NASA legend Katherine Johnson has died at age 101, The New York Times reports. The inspiration for the 2016 movie Hidden Figures, Johnson was best known for calculating the equations that sent the first astronauts to the moon and breaking barriers in science and technology as a black woman in the civil rights era.

Katherine Johnson's knack for numbers was apparent from a young age. She was born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, on August 26, 1918, and she enrolled directly into the second grade as soon as she was old enough to go to school. She graduated college summa cum laude at age 18 after taking every math class that was available to her.

In the 1950s, NASA hired Johnson to be one of the women "computers" tasked with crunching the numbers that were vital to getting missions off the ground. She was personally responsible for confirming the equations that sent astronaut John Glenn into orbit in 1962. After requesting that Johnson double-check the computer's math by hand, he reportedly said, “If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go.”

Her biggest job was working on the Apollo 11 mission. Johnson worked closely with NASA's engineers to calculate when and where to launch the first manned shuttle to the moon, fully aware that even a tiny error could lead to a national tragedy. On July 20, 1969, the first astronauts landed on the moon, thanks in part to her computing power.

As a black woman working in a primarily white male-dominated field in the 1960s, Johnson's contributions to space history went unrecognized for years. She lived long enough to become one of the few marginalized figures in science to receive some much-deserved, albeit overdue, accolades. In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 2016, her work at NASA was depicted in the Oscar-nominated movie Hidden Figures. Johnson also nurtured a love of knowledge throughout her life, earning an honorary doctorate degree from West Virginia University more than 75 years after dropping out of graduate school.

Johnson died on the morning of Monday, February 24, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine shared on Twitter. He said in the announcement, "She was an American hero and her pioneering legacy will never be forgotten."

[h/t The New York Times]

A Super Pink Moon—the Biggest Supermoon of 2020—Is Coming In April

April's super pink moon will be extra big and bright (but still white).
April's super pink moon will be extra big and bright (but still white).
jakkapan21/iStock via Getty Images

The sky has already given us several spectacular reasons to look up this year. In addition to a few beautiful full moons, we’ve also gotten opportunities to see the moon share a “kiss” with Venus and even make Mars briefly disappear.

In early April, avid sky-gazers are in for another treat—a super pink moon, the biggest supermoon of 2020. This full moon is considered a supermoon because it coincides with the moon’s perigee, or the point in the moon’s monthly orbit when it’s closest to Earth. According to EarthSky, the lunar perigee occurs on April 7 at 2:08 p.m. EST, and the peak of the full moon follows just hours later, at 10:35 p.m. EST.

How a supermoon is different.

Since the super pink moon will be closer to Earth than any other full moon this year, it will be 2020’s biggest and brightest. It’s also the second of three consecutive supermoons, sandwiched between March’s worm moon and May’s flower moon. Because supermoons only appear about 7 percent bigger and 15 percent brighter than regular full moons, you might not notice a huge difference—but even the most ordinary full moon is pretty breathtaking, so the super pink moon is worth an upward glance when night falls on April 7.

The meaning of pink moon.

Despite its name, the super pink moon will still shine with a normal golden-white glow. As The Old Farmer’s Almanac explains, April’s full moon derives its misleading moniker from an eastern North American wildflower called Phlox subulata, or moss pink, that usually blooms in early April. It’s also called the paschal moon, since its timing helps the Catholic Church set the date for Easter (the word paschal means “of or relating to Easter”).

[h/t EarthSky]

Are Any of the Scientific Instruments Left on the Moon By the Apollo Astronauts Still Functional?

Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong left the first footprint on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
Apollo 11 astronaut Neil Armstrong left the first footprint on the Moon on July 20, 1969.
Heritage Space/Heritage Images/Getty Images

C Stuart Hardwick:

The retroreflectors left as part of the Apollo Lunar Ranging Experiment are still fully functional, though their reflective efficiency has diminished over the years.

This deterioration is actually now delivering valuable data. The deterioration has multiple causes including micrometeorite impacts and dust deposition on the reflector surface, and chemical degradation of the mirror surface on the underside—among other things.

As technology has advanced, ground station sensitivity has been repeatedly upgraded faster than the reflectors have deteriorated. As a result, measurements have gotten better, not worse, and measurements of the degradation itself have, among other things, lent support to the idea that static electric charge gives the moon an ephemeral periodic near-surface pseudo-atmosphere of electrically levitating dust.

No other Apollo experiments on the moon remain functional. All the missions except the first included experiment packages powered by radiothermoelectric generators (RTGs), which operated until they were ordered to shut down on September 30, 1977. This was done to save money, but also because by then the RTGs could no longer power the transmitters or any instruments, and the control room used to maintain contact was needed for other purposes.

Because of fears that some problem might force Apollo 11 to abort back to orbit soon after landing, Apollo 11 deployed a simplified experiment package including a solar-powered seismometer which failed after 21 days.

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

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