S.S. Katherine Johnson

American aerospace and defense technology company Northrop Grumman announced that its latest spacecraft is named in honor of native West Virginian Katherine Johnson. Due to launch Feb. 20, 2021, the S.S. Katherine Johnson will deliver supplies to the International Space Station.

Noting the company’s tradition to name each Cygnus spacecraft after an individual who played a pivotal role in human spaceflight, Northrop Grumman wrote in a news release that “[Johnson’s] hand-written calculations were critical to America’s success during our first human spaceflight missions.”

Johnson, a Black mathematician, was born in White Sulphur Springs in 1918. She attended West Virginia State College (now University), where she earned degrees in both mathematics and French. Johnson’s career spanned decades, first at the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics and later at NASA. Her calculations helped put the first Americans in space and to land on the moon.

In 2015, then-President Barack Obama awarded Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. A book the following year, “Hidden Figures,” told Johnson’s story, and the movie of the same name was a box office hit.


Image courtesy NASA

West Virginia State University erected a bronze statue in Johnson’s honor in 2018, just prior to her 100th birthday. Katherine Johnson died in February 2020 at age 101.