Space station launch honors ‘Hidden Figures’ mathematician

A goose is launched as Grumman’s Antares Northup rocket lifts off the starting block at Nasa’s Wallops Island flight facility in Wallops Island, Va., Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. The rocket delivers goods to the Station International Space.
Image credit: AP

Cape Canaveral: A space station supply ship named after the Black Nasa maths featured in the movie “Hidden Figures” went into orbit on Saturday, the 59th anniversary of the launch of the historic John Glenn.

The Cygnus Northrop Grumman capsule – known as the SS Katherine Johnson – should arrive at the International Space Station Monday after it was launched from the east coast of Virginia.

Johnson died almost exactly a year ago at the age of 101.

“Mrs. Johnson was chosen for her handwritten calculation that helped send the first Americans into space, as well as her achievements in breaking a glass roof after glass top as a Black woman, ”said Frank DeMauro, vice president of Northrop Grumman on the eve of construction. “Homework is the key for all of you to watch that film after the launch of Cygnus.”

Johnson’s numbers added February 20, 1962, a flight in which Glenn became the first American to orbit the world. The film, released in late 2016, featured the effort put in by Johnson and other Black women at the Nasa Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, in the early days of space exploration. Langley is 160km from the launch site at Wallops Island.

Northrop Grumman launched the 4-ton cargo for NASA in the early afternoon from Wallops, where temperatures were just above freezing. The Antares rocket was visible from the Carolinas to Connecticut, at least where the skies were clear.

This is the second delivery at the space station in less than a week. A Russian capsule pulled Wednesday with apples and marjoram, among other things.

“Oh, we love fresh food !!!” Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi tweeted. He noted that the space station flew over Virginia just 10 minutes ahead of Saturday’s announcement.

Noguchi and the six U.S. and Russian crews can expect more apples once the Cygnus arrives, along with tomato, nuts, smoked salmon, Parmesan and cheddar cheese, caramels and coconut strips.

The capsule also holds 120,000 tiny worms for muscle testing, as well as off-the-shelf computer equipment to increase the speed of data processing at the space station. Also flying: prospective radiation detectors for NASA’s astronauts ‘moon landing program, and a new system to convert more of the astronauts’ urine into drinking water.

This is the 15th Northrop Grumman station supply run for NASA. SpaceX is NASA’s other navigator.