Katherine Johnson and others awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom
November 16, 2015 5:21 PM   Subscribe

President Obama: “I look forward to presenting these 17 distinguished Americans with our nation’s highest civilian honor. From public servants who helped us meet defining challenges of our time to artists who expanded our imaginations, from leaders who have made our union more perfect to athletes who have inspired millions of fans, these men and women have enriched our lives and helped define our shared experience as Americans.”

Katherine G. Johnson is a pioneer in American space history. A NASA mathematician, Johnson's computations have influenced every major space program from Mercury through the Shuttle program. Johnson was hired as a research mathematician at the Langley Research Center with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the agency that preceded NASA, after they opened hiring to African-Americans and women. Johnson exhibited exceptional technical leadership and is known especially for her calculations of the 1961 trajectory for Alan Shepard’s flight (first American in space), the 1962 verification of the first flight calculation made by an electronic computer for John Glenn’s orbit (first American to orbit the earth), and the 1969 Apollo 11 trajectory to the moon. In her later NASA career, Johnson worked on the Space Shuttle program and the Earth Resources Satellite and encouraged students to pursue careers in science and technology fields.

NASA: “I counted everything. I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed … anything that could be counted, I did.”...Her love of mathematics took her well beyond her small world; some could say it even took her from Earth all the way to the stars. She was a trailblazer, forging a path that would allow many others to follow in her steps. Her spirit and determination helped lead NASA into a new era, and for that the agency is grateful. Lesson: NASA would not be what it is if not for you, Mrs. Johnson.

Previously: John Glenn refused to fly until Katherine Johnson checked the math

Other recipients are: Yogi Berra (posthumous), Bonnie Carroll, Shirley Chisholm (posthumous), Emilio Estefan, Gloria Estefan, Billy Frank, Jr. (posthumous), Lee Hamilton, Willie Mays, Barbara Mikulski, Itzhak Perlman, William Ruckelshaus, Stephen Sondheim, Steven Spielberg, Barbra Streisand, James Taylor, Minoru Yasui (posthumous).
posted by Beti (13 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
wow - thanks for this post - what a breath of fresh air - she is amazing!
posted by bird internet at 5:39 PM on November 16, 2015

Now my retcon for Lt. Uhura: computer makes a claim, mathematical officer verifies it and passes it on. (It's trivial to see a real space scientist and think of an acting role. It's serious that the acting role has had so much more exposure.)
posted by clew at 5:56 PM on November 16, 2015

Reagan is the prez, but I voted for Shirley Chisholm.
posted by box at 5:56 PM on November 16, 2015

Shirley Chisholm? This makes my day.
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 6:09 PM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Barbara Streisand?
James Taylor?!?

Where is Cher? Have you even seen her Twitter feed? Medal of Freedom for that alone.
posted by hal_c_on at 6:10 PM on November 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

Stephen Sondheim -- finally! The man's a bona fide genius.
posted by Seekerofsplendor at 6:27 PM on November 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

And a Williams alum!
posted by Joseph Gurl at 6:57 PM on November 16, 2015

I misread "Emilio Estefan" as "Emilio Estevez" and was very confused.
posted by Nerd of the North at 7:05 PM on November 16, 2015 [5 favorites]

TIL that Willie Mays is still alive. Amazing lineup of recipients this year.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 9:30 PM on November 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

Short video about Katherine G. Johnson.
posted by vacapinta at 5:13 AM on November 17, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's pleasantly surprising how women pop up as part of the computational backbone of NASA.

Here's Margaret Hamilton, for example, lead software engineer for Apollo.

an Earlham alum. Fight Fight Inner Light, Kill Quakers Kill!
posted by leotrotsky at 7:23 AM on November 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

Here's Margaret Hamilton, for example, lead software engineer for Apollo.

Could just as easily have chosen the other Margaret Hamilton, since we're going posthumous. Which just goes to show how random these awards are.
posted by BWA at 11:12 AM on November 17, 2015

I'm a bit up and down on some of the recipients, but Yogi Berra literally defined America to my immigrant grandparents. Use your hands, speak your mind. Succeed.

I get Margaret Hamilton mixed up with Grace Hopper in my head for some reason.
posted by Sphinx at 2:36 PM on November 17, 2015

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