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Taraji P. Henson

Inspirational women, News

Remembering Trailblazing Rocket Woman Katherine Johnson

2 March, 2020

At Rocket Women we’re saddened to hear of the passing of trailblazing Rocket Woman Katherine Johnson at 101-years-old on 24th February 2020. Katherine Johnson played a role in every major US space program, from Alan Shepard’s inaugural Mercury flight, making him the first American in space, to the Space Shuttle program.

Katherine’s inspirational work for the US space program predates the creation of NASA & she began to work for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics or NACA in 1953 where women had been hired to calculate results, this in an era prior to the modern electronic computer. The job title of these women were ‘Computer’.

Katherine 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. Exhibiting exceptional technical leadership, Katherine was especially known 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 land humans on the surface of the moon.

In her later NASA career, Katherine worked on the Space Shuttle program and the Earth Resources Satellite and encouraged students to pursue careers in science and technology fields. Her life and significant contributions were highlighted in a book and later movie, Hidden Figures, with Katherine brilliantly played by actor Taraji P. Henson. Hidden Figures also features the stories of fellow NASA mathematician Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and engineer Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe).

In the words of former NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman, Katherine ‘literally wrote the textbook on rocket science.’ “We’re all so fortunate that Katherine insisted on asking questions & on relentlessly pursuing the answers. We are fortunate that when faced with the adversity of racial & gender barriers, she found the courage to say ‘tell them I’m coming.'”

“We’re all so fortunate that Katherine insisted on asking questions & on relentlessly pursuing the answers. We are fortunate that when faced with the adversity of racial & gender barriers, she found the courage to say ‘tell them I’m coming.” – Former NASA Deputy Administrator, Dave Newman

Thank you Katherine Johnson for your overwhelming strength in the face of adversity & for inspiring future generations of young women to follow their dreams to the stars. We hope that we, the next generation, can make you proud, work hard & honour your incredible legacy.

Remember, channel your inner Katherine Johnson & always know that you belong.

Astronauts, Inspirational women, News

Olay Launches ‘Make Space For Women’ Super Bowl Ad

1 February, 2020
Olay Releases Super Bowl 2020 Ad: “Operation #MakeSpaceForWomen Is Ready For Liftoff!” [Copyright: Olay]

The Super Bowl is one of the biggest sporting events in the world. It’s iconic games have frequently been amongst the most watched television broadcasts in the United States, with Super Bowl commercials shown during the games reaching millions of viewers (Super Bowl 2019 viewing figures were a reported staggering 149 million!).

Olay the skin care company, this week released it’s 30 second commercial due to air during the fourth ad break of Super Bowl 2020. The ad features NASA astronaut (ret.) Nicole Scott, actors Busy Philipps, Taraji. P. Henson, television personality Katie Couric and entertainer Lily Singh. Real-life-astronaut Nicole Stott, Lilly Singh and Busy Philipps play astronauts launching on a fictional Olay space mission to #MakeSpaceForWomen, with Taraji. P. Henson supporting from Earth as part of Mission Control and Katie Couric as a TV reporter covering the mission.

The ad’s campaign named “Make Space For Women” supports the vision of encouraging young women to choose STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths), and brilliantly features a real-life Rocket Woman and Astronaut Nicole Stott.

The Super Bowl ad comes just weeks after the historic first ever all-female spacewalk conducted by NASA astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch. Outreach messages like these are needed especially to encourage the next generation to follow their passion in STEM and to increase the number of women in science and engineering. With NASA’s astronaut corps edging closer and making strides towards gender equality, Olay’s Super Bowl advert will help to spread awareness and reach out to young women aiming to achieve their goals in the space industry and otherwise. The message is loud and clear, any girl, anywhere in the world, like these five Rocket Women can take up anything, become anything that they set their mind to.

Each time a user tweets using the hashtag #MakeSpaceForWomen, Olay will donate one dollar (up to $500,000) to the nonprofit Girls Who Code.

Olay is also taking this a step forward by donating proceeds from the commercial to Girls Who Code – a nonprofit that supports young women in computer related fields. Each time a user tweets using the hashtag #MakeSpaceForWomen through Twitter, Olay will donate one dollar (up to $500,000) to the nonprofit Girls Who Code. This fantastic social media fund-raising endeavor is ongoing until 3rd February 2020.

In an interview with collectSpace, Nicole Stott discussed the impact that she hopes Olay’s #MakeSpaceForWomen ad will make on the aspirations of the next generation, “But young girls seeing those women present, and then including a real astronaut, too, in this space-themed advertisement, I think it was genius. I think it allows it to be a very legitimate medium for a campaign that is encouraging young women in STEM.”

NASA Astronaut Nicole Stott, Expedition 20 flight engineer, onboard the International Space Station in 2009, near a window in the Kibo laboratory [Image credit: NASA]

Olay released the teaser trailer for the advert to correspond with the second all-woman spacewalk on 15th January, carried out by NASA Astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir, and amazingly donated $25,000 in each of their names to Girls Who Code!

At Rocket Women, we’re excited for the impact that Olay’s Super Bowl ad will have to inspire future Rocket Women. As NASA Astronaut Mae Jemison rightly said,”It’s your place in the world, your life. Go and do all that you can do with it.”

Written by Savri Gandhi

(Edited by Vinita Marwaha Madill)

Inspirational women

New Movie Highlights Pivotal Role Of NASA Women To Achieve Moon Landing

16 August, 2016

Neil Armstrong may have been the first man on the Moon but behind his historic steps were a group of women with the job title of ‘Computer’. A fantastic and long overdue movie called ‘Hidden Figures’ tells the story of trailblazing NASA mathematicians Katherine Johnson (Taraji P. Henson), Dorothy Vaughn (Octavia Spencer) and Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe). These women were responsible for calculating the trajectory for Neil Armstrong’s 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon and Apollo 13 among others. Katherine Johnson was critical to the Apollo 13 mission and relied upon to help safely return the astronauts to Earth through her work on backup procedures. 97-Year-Old Katherine Johnson was recently awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States’ highest civilian honor, for a hugely influential career in mathematics. The struggles and triumphs of Katherine and her colleagues are highlighted in this brilliant must-see movie due to be released in January 2017!

Watch the trailer here:

Inspiration, Inspirational women

NASA’s Female Pioneers – Rocket Women From History You Should Know

31 March, 2016

katherine obama

[Copyright: WhiteHouse.gov. Photo credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls]

She’s played a role in every major US space program, from calculating the trajectory for Alan Shepard’s (First American in Space) inaugural flight to the Space Shuttle era. Her inspirational work for the U.S. space program since 1953 predates the creation of NASA. She calculated the trajectory for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon in 1970, and Apollo 13’s mission to the Moon. When Apollo 13’s mission was aborted, she helped to safely return the crew to Earth four days later through her work on backup procedures and charts .

Her name is Katherine Johnson and it’s likely that you’ve never heard her name before. Until recently that is. 97-Year-Old Katherine Johnson became a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom in November 2015, the United States’ highest civilian honor, for a hugely influential career in mathematics. When NASA began to use electronic computers for the first time to calculate astronaut John Glenn’s orbit around Earth, she was relied upon to verify the computer’s calculations. And now, mathematical genius Katherine Johnson has been commemorated in a movie titled ‘Hidden Figures‘ and played by none other than “Empire” Star Taraji P. Henson.

Katherine Johnson along with her colleagues Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson, served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in U.S. history — the momentous launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit, and his safe return. Glenn flew the Friendship 7 mission in 1962, becoming the first American to orbit the Earth. The job title of these women was ‘Computer’. The three women crossed all gender, race and professional lines while embarking on the mission.  ‘Hidden Figures’ is an adaptation of the Margot Lee Shetterly book “Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race,”

I’m so glad that this movie has been made and will help to highlight the significant work that these women have achieved. But Katherine Johnson isn’t the only woman whose achievements have been unsung for over 40 years.

During Women’s History Month, other women who you need to know include:

Valerie Thomas

Valerie Thomas [NASA]

Valerie Thomas

In the 1940s, Valerie Thomas went to an all-girls school where math and science weren’t even taught. But she persevered and went on to study physics in college. Valerie took a job at NASA, project managing the Landsat program, which collected satellite images of Earth from space. She soon began conceptualizing the projection of 3D images in a similar way. Using a series of concave mirrors, Thomas invented and patented the 3D-Illusion transmitter, which produces 3D projections of objects – and NASA still uses her technology. It’s her technology that made your 3D TV and modern medical imaging possible.

Seamstresses nicknamed "'Little Old Ladies”, threading copper wires through magnetic rings. Apollo memory was literally hardwired!

Seamstresses nicknamed “‘Little Old Ladies”, threading copper wires through magnetic rings. Apollo memory was literally hardwired! Wire going through core=1.Wire going around=0 [Photo copyright: Jack Poundstone/Raytheon]

The Women That Stitched Apollo To The Moon

Raytheon’s expert seamstresses, nicknamed ‘Little Old Ladies’, threaded copper wires through magnetic rings (a wire going through a core was a 1; a wire going around the core was a 0). Unbelievably, software was woven into core rope memory by female workers in factories. Apollo memory was literally hardwired and almost indestructible.

Seamstress Hazel Fellows sewing the thermal micrometeoroid garment of the ILC A7L Apollo spacesuit( [Quartz/Copyright, ILC Dover]

Seamstress Hazel Fellows sewing the thermal micrometeoroid garment of the ILC A7L Apollo spacesuit [Quartz/Copyright: ILC Dover]

At ILC Dover, a team of expert seamstresses, on Singer sewing machines, designed and built the iconic suits worn by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the Moon in 1969, and essential to every Apollo mission. A total of 3 custom made suits were created for each astronaut, a training suit, a flight suit and a backup.

This is Margaret Hamilton, NASA lead software engineer, and this is the Apollo guidance program that she wrote.

This is Margaret Hamilton, NASA lead software engineer, and this is the Apollo guidance program that she wrote. [Copyright: NASA]

Margaret Hamilton

The code hardwired by a team of seamstresses that allowed the Apollo missions to fly, was created in part by Margaret Hamilton. Although not an astronaut, her contribution was critical to the success of Apollo, through the development the onboard guidance software for the Apollo mission as NASA’s lead software engineer. and through her role as Director of the Software Engineering Division at MIT’s Instrumentation Laboratory. Three minutes before the Apollo 11 lunar lander reached the Moon’s surface, her work prevented an abort as computer alarms triggered. Due to her design the computer overcame it’s overloading and took recovery action to rectify the issue, allowing the crew to land. “As a working mother in the 1960s, Margaret Hamilton was unusual; but as a spaceship programmer, Margaret Hamilton was positively radical. She would bring her daughter Lauren by the lab on weekends and evenings. While 4-year-old Lauren slept on the floor of the office overlooking the Charles River, her mother programmed away, creating routines that would ultimately be added to the Apollo’s command module computer. “People used to say to me, ‘How can you leave your daughter? How can you do this?’” Hamilton remembers. But she loved the arcane novelty of her job.” Margaret was also a vanguard in business and founded Hamilton Technologies Inc. in 1986, a groundbreaking software company, becoming CEO alongside coining the term “software engineering”.

Annie Easley [Engadget]

Annie Easley [Engadget. Photo Credit: NASA]

Annie Easley

During Annie Easley’s 34-year career, she worked not only on technologies at NASA that led to hybrid vehicles, but additionally to create software that enabled spaceflight and exploration. She was encouraged at a young age by her mother who told her that anything was possible, “You can be anything you want to. It doesn’t matter what you look like, what your size is, what your color is. You can be anything you want to, but you do have to work at it.” At NASA, then NACA, Annie was literally a human computer and later, as actual computers were used to conduct calculations, a math technician. She made a decision to carry out a degree in mathematics and attended classes full-time at Cleveland State University, in addition to working full-time at NACA. Male colleagues had their tuition paid for, however she had to pay for her courses herself, with her own money. NASA later sponsored additional specialized courses, but only after she had paid for her degree. Her work includes research in alternative energy, analysing solar and wind technologies, determining the life use of storage batteries and identifying energy-conversion systems – supporting the batteries used in hybrid vehicles today. Her software development skills were invaluable during the development of the Centaur rocket, the most powerful upper stage in the US space program. The rocket would be used to launch weather & communications satellites in addition to exploration spacecraft – Pioneer, Viking, Voyager and Cassini.

You can be anything you want to. It doesn’t matter what you look like, what your size is, what your color is. You can be anything you want to, but you do have to work at it.

The words of Dava Newman – NASA’s Deputy Administrator and a fellow trailblazer – regarding Katherine Johnson’s achievements ring true for each of these women, “We are fortunate that when faced with the adversity of racial and gender barriers, she found the courage to say tell them I’m coming.”