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John Glenn refused to fly until Katherine Johnson checked the math.
August 30, 2014 12:34 AM   Subscribe


 
From the wikipedia:

In 1962, when NASA used computers for the first time to calculate John Glenn's orbit around Earth, officials called on her to verify the computer's numbers. Ms. Johnson later worked directly with real computers. Her ability and reputation for accuracy helped to establish confidence in the new technology.

Reminds me of the Bruce Schneier facts, except it's not a joke.
posted by el io at 12:43 AM on August 30 [6 favorites]


I recently learned of her in the SA forum on thread Kerbal Space Program, where math wasn't good unless it matched what Katherine said.

I'm really hoping they eventually name a Kerbal after her at the very least, more people need to know about her.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 1:08 AM on August 30


Wow - what an amazing person. A great, uplifting story.
posted by greenhornet at 4:03 AM on August 30


Man, that was neat. What a lady.
posted by notsnot at 5:17 AM on August 30


From her Wikipedia:
"While the racial and gender barriers were always there, Katherine says she ignored them. Katherine was assertive, asking to be included in editorial meetings (where no women had gone before.) She simply told people she had done the work and that she belonged."
Even though this shouldn't be necessary, I think it sends an important message: assert yourself and insist upon your right to be there. Your work will speak for itself.
posted by Fizz at 5:33 AM on August 30 [14 favorites]


I think it sends an important message: assert yourself and insist upon your right to be there. Your work will speak for itself.

Until it gets trumped by the Old Boy Network.
posted by Mezentian at 5:40 AM on August 30 [7 favorites]


Oh cool, she's still alive and living in Virginia.

Even though this shouldn't be necessary, I think it sends an important message: assert yourself and insist upon your right to be there. Your work will speak for itself.

An equally important message is the sentence before what you quoted:
" Katherine's knowledge of analytic geometry helped make quick allies of male bosses and colleagues to the extent that,'they forgot to return me to the pool.'"
In short, it also takes allies who don't put up with the bullshit and just take the person on their talents and push for them to "get in the club."

Definitely checkout the video of her interview in the first link, Ms. Johnson comes off as a really warm person and great teacher.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:59 AM on August 30 [8 favorites]


Perhaps this should be required viewing for Lawrence Summers. (Sorry, couldn't resist.)
Really enjoyed the video! She's a great lady and a great intellect.
posted by tuesdayschild at 7:03 AM on August 30 [2 favorites]


i was just coming here to post this! maybe my favorite line, "well, is there a law against it?!"

she's a remarkable woman. i would watch hours of her telling her stories.
posted by nadawi at 7:19 AM on August 30


Even though this shouldn't be necessary, I think it sends an important message: assert yourself and insist upon your right to be there. Your work will speak for itself.

Hahaha. If you're extraordinary, maybe. They'll use you but never respect you.

But for the rest of us? Haha! There are countless studies indicating the opposite.
posted by winna at 7:45 AM on August 30 [5 favorites]


On the bus ride to this first assignment (in Marion, VA), Katherine says she had her first experience with racism. She says when they crossed from West Virginia into Virginia, the bus stopped and all of the Black people had to move to the back, which Katherine did. Later, they had to change buses. All of the white passengers were allowed on the bus, but the Blacks were put into taxis. Katherine says the driver said “All you colored folk, come over here.” But she would not move until he asked her politely. Katherine also said her mother warned her, “Remember, you’re going to Virginia.” And that she said, “Well, tell them I’m coming.”

Fuck yeahhhhhhhh
posted by dismas at 8:13 AM on August 30 [20 favorites]


I'm currently reading When Computers Were Human (among other books). I've just passed the section shortly after WW2 when electronic computers are beginning to displace human computers. When they were debating whether to move the Mathematical Tables Project from NY to Washington DC, one of the excuses not to do it was that 20% of the computers in the Project were Black, and Washington was segregated.

One of the most frustrating things about the book is that it began after the discovery of the author's grandma's past as a mathematician and computer, but gender is lightly touched, and then we get surprises like that 20% figure that isn't commented anywhere else.
posted by sukeban at 9:33 AM on August 30


How excellent. And they should replace that sketch on her Wikipedia page with the photo on the NASA page, 'cause the latter is great.
posted by benito.strauss at 9:53 AM on August 30 [5 favorites]


Really cool to learn about her, and especially to show the video to my daughter.

I'm reading Cryptonomicon right now and the infuriating part of this otherwise rollicking, clever historical adventure is Stephenson's tedious reinforcement of sexism and racism (I'm sure self justified as being contrarian or some bullshit). He treats the women as irrelevant props and when he had the opportunity to show this really cool story about the women who were the human computers of code breaking, he creates much more character development for the machines.
posted by latkes at 2:27 PM on August 30 [3 favorites]


What an amazing person. And why the heck is she not more well known?

I had never heard of her before. Thanks for the post.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 5:16 PM on August 30 [3 favorites]


Thanks. I have a new hero.
posted by TheShadowKnows at 12:54 PM on August 31


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