NASA names Virginia research center after mathematician Katherine Johnson - Technical.ly DC

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Sep. 26, 2017 8:17 am

NASA names Virginia research center after mathematician Katherine Johnson

The inspiration for “Hidden Figures” continues to see her contributions recognized.
Katherine G. Johnson at the Langley research facility that bears her namesake.

Katherine G. Johnson at the Langley research facility that bears her namesake.

(Photo courtesy NASA/Gary Banziger)

Last week, NASA cut the ribbon on a brand new research facility in Hampton, Va., named after the acclaimed mathematician and human computer Katherine Johnson.

The Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility opened Sept. 22, and is part of a strategic revitalization of the 100-year-old Langley Research Center where Johnson worked for 33 years. Much like Johnson once did, the new facility will be assisting Langley in modeling and simulating big data.

Johnson’s story made waves in D.C. after the book Hidden Figures hit the big screen last year and people first learned of the of African American women who worked as so-called “human computers” at NASA during the 1950s and 1960s.

The film inspired a crowdfunding project in D.C. to bring low-income kids to see it in theaters. The original amount organizer Deborah Bey asked for was $1,000. With help from Hear Me Code, she ended up raising $10,000 and bringing in 300 kids, Technical.ly DC reported.

The story of women — especially African American women — in STEM also helped crowdfund a children’s book about girls who code by local author Sasha Ariel Alston. Alston sought $5,000 to create the book last year, and raised $17,602.

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and Virginia Senator Mark Warner were among the “special guests” invited to last week’s ceremony, according to a press release by NASA.

“You have been a trailblazer,” McAuliffe told Johnson, according to remarks. “When I think of Virginia and the history of what we’ve gone through … you’re at the top of that list.”

The decision to name the facility after Johnson was finalized with a naming ceremony last summer. Johnson, then 97 years old, attended and was awarded the Space Flight Awareness Silver Snoopy award for “outstanding contributions to human spaceflight safety.”

This is her second major award, after a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2015.

The Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility appears to be the first NASA center or research facility named after a woman.

While there’s no word on NASA about visitors to the Johnson Facility, the Langley Center is having a centennial celebration to mark its founding in 1917 will be open to the public on Oct. 21. Admission is free.

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