Introduced Version House Concurrent Resolution 94 History

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(By Delegate Hornbuckle)

[Introduced March 21, 2017]


Proclaiming and making August 26 of each year to be Katherine Coleman Johnson Day celebrating her many NASA achievements in establishing the United States as the premier explorer of outer space, including the moon landing and the NASA Shuttle, and as the recipient of the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Whereas, Katherine Johnson was born on August 26, 1918, in White Sulphur Springs; and

Whereas, Katherine Johnson’s intense curiosity and brilliance with numbers vaulted her ahead several grades in school. By thirteen, she was attending the high school on the campus of historically black West Virginia State College. At eighteen, she enrolled in the college itself, where she made quick work of the school’s math curriculum and found a mentor in math professor W. W. Schieffelin Claytor, the third African American to earn a PhD in Mathematics. Katherine Johnson graduated with highest honors in 1937 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics and French and took a job teaching at a black public school in Virginia; and

Whereas, When West Virginia integrated its graduate schools in 1939, West Virginia State’s President Dr. John W. Davis selected Katherine Johnson and two male students as the first black students to be offered spots at the state’s flagship school, West Virginia University. She left her teaching job, and enrolled in the graduate math program. At the end of the first session, however, she decided to leave school to start a family with her husband. Ms. Johnson returned to teaching when her three daughters got older, but it wasn’t until 1952 that a relative told her about open positions at the all-black West Area Computing section at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA’s) Langley laboratory, headed by fellow West Virginian Dorothy Vaughan. Ms. Johnson and her husband, James Goble, decided to move the family to Newport News to pursue the opportunity, and she began work at Langley in the summer of 1953. Just two weeks into her tenure in the office, Dorothy Vaughan assigned her to a project in the Maneuver Loads Branch of the Flight Research Division, and Ms. Johnson’s temporary position soon became permanent. She spent the next four years analyzing data from flight test, and worked on the investigation of a plane crash caused by wake turbulence. As she was wrapping up this work her husband died of cancer in December 1956; and

Whereas, The 1957 launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik changed history -- and Katherine Johnson’s life. In 1957, she provided some of the math for the 1958 document “Notes on Space Technology,” a compendium of a series of 1958 lectures given by engineers in the Flight Research Division and the Pilotless Aircraft Research Division (PARD). Engineers from those groups formed the core of the Space Task Group, the NACA’s first official foray into space travel, and Ms. Johnson, who had worked with many of them since coming to Langley, “came along with the program” as the NACA became NASA later that year; and

Whereas, Katherine Johnson did trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s May 1961 mission Freedom 7, America’s first human spaceflight. In 1960, she and engineer Ted Skopinski coauthored “Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite Over a Selected Earth Position,” a report laying out the equations describing an orbital spaceflight in which the landing position of the spacecraft is specified. It was the first time a woman in the Flight Research Division had received credit as an author of a research report; and

Whereas, In 1962, as NASA prepared for the orbital mission of John Glenn, Ms. Johnson was called upon to do the work that she would become most known for. The complexity of the orbital flight had required the construction of a worldwide communications network, linking tracking stations around the world to IBM computers in Washington, DC, Cape Canaveral, and Bermuda. The computers had been programmed with the orbital equations that would control the trajectory of the capsule in Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission, from blast off to splashdown, but the astronauts were wary of putting their lives in the care of the electronic calculating machines, which were prone to hiccups and blackouts. As a part of the preflight checklist, Glenn asked engineers to “get the girl”—Katherine Johnson—to run the same numbers through the same equations that had been programmed into the computer, but by hand, on her desktop mechanical calculating machine. “If she says they’re good,” Katherine Johnson remembers the astronaut saying, “then I’m ready to go.” Glenn’s flight was a success, and marked a turning point in the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union in space; and

Whereas, When asked to name her greatest contribution to space exploration, Katherine Johnson talks about the calculations that helped synch Project Apollo’s Lunar Lander with the moon-orbiting Command and Service Module. She also worked on the Space Shuttle and the Earth Resources Satellite, and authored or coauthored 26 research reports; and

Whereas, Katherine Johnson retired in 1986, after thirty-three years at Langley. “I loved going to work every single day,” she said. In 2015, at age 97, Katherine Johnson added another extraordinary achievement to her long list: President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor; and

Whereas, Katherine Johnson’s extraordinary contributions to her country were detailed in Margot Lee Shetterly’s acclaimed book, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race that was adapted into a motion picture that was not only nominated for an Academy Award for the Best Picture of the Year, but also received standing ovations from movie goers all over the country; therefore, be it

Resolved by the Legislature of West Virginia:

That the Legislature of West Virginia hereby proclaims and makes August 26 of each year to be Katherine Coleman Johnson Day celebrating her many NASA achievements in establishing the United States as the premier explorer of outer space, including the moon landing and the NASA Shuttle, and as the recipient of the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom; and, be it

Further Resolved, That the Clerk of the House of Delegates, forward a certified copy of this resolution to Katherine Johnson, Dr. Anthony L. Jenkins, President of West Virginia State University, The Board of Trustees of West Virginia State University, Dr. E. Gordon Gee, President of West Virginia University, Dr. Michael Martirano, West Virginia State Superintendent of Schools, Margot Lee Shetterly, and the West Virginia delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

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