New Spacecraft Named After Katherine Johnson Honors the Pioneering NASA Mathematician

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images / Alex Wong/Getty Images

It took decades for Katherine Johnson to get the recognition she deserved for her contributions to NASA. In the years before her death at age 101 in 2020, Johnson won the Presidential Medal of Freedom, received an honorary doctorate from West Virginia University, and was spotlighted in the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures. Now, she's being honored with a spacecraft bearing her name, Travel + Leisure reports.

Northrop Grumman's new NG-15 Cygnus cargo craft has been named the S.S. Katherine Johnson ahead of its trip to the International Space Station later this month. It's tradition at the aerospace company to name Cygnus spacecraft after influential figures in the history of space flight. In a news release announcing the name, Northrop Grumman said of Katherine Johnson, "Her work at NASA quite literally launched Americans into space, and her legacy continues to inspire young Black women every day."

NASA hired Johnson in the 1950s at the dawn of the Space Age. Her work crunching numbers as a "human computer" was underappreciated and underpaid, but it proved instrumental in sending the first Americans to space. Johnson was the person who double-checked the orbital equations used for John Glenn's 1962 spaceflight, and she worked with NASA engineers to calculate the precise time and location for launching the first manned mission to the moon.

On February 20, Johnson's namesake craft will take off from Wallops Island in Virginia on an Antares rocket. It's set to deliver supplies, scientific experiments, and spare equipment to the crew onboard the ISS.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]