Space station launch honors 'Hidden Figures' mathematician

Marcia Dunn
AP Aerospace Writer
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Cape Canaveral, Fla. – A space station supply ship named after the Black NASA mathematician featured in the movie “Hidden Figures” blasted off Saturday, the 59th anniversary of John Glenn’s historic launch.

Northrop Grumman launched the 4-ton shipment for NASA from Wallops Island on Virginia’s eastern shore. The Antares rocket was visible from the Carolinas to Connecticut, where early afternoon skies were clear.

The Cygnus capsule — dubbed the S.S. Katherine Johnson — should reach the space station Monday.

Northup Grumman's Antares rocket lifts off the launch pad at NASA's Wallops Island flight facility in Wallops Island, Va., Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021. The rocket is delivering cargo to the International Space Station. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Johnson died almost exactly a year ago at age 101.

“Mrs. Johnson was selected for her hand-written calculations that helped launch the first Americans into space, as well as her accomplishments in breaking glass ceiling after glass ceiling as a Black woman,” Frank DeMauro, a Northrop Grumman vice president, said on the eve of liftoff. “A homework assignment for all of you is to go watch that movie after the Cygnus launch.”

Johnson’s numbers contributed to the Feb. 20, 1962, flight in which Glenn became the first American to orbit the world. Contributions to the success of Glenn’s flight by Johnson and other Black women were depicted in the 2017 film.

This will be the space station’s second delivery in less than a week. A Russian capsule pulled up Wednesday with apples and oranges, among other things.

“Oh, we love fresh food!!!” tweeted Japanese astronaut Soichi Noguchi.

Noguchi and his six U.S. and Russian crewmates can expect more apples once the Cygnus arrives, along with tomatoes, nuts, smoked salmon, Parmesan and cheddar cheeses, caramels and coconut strips.

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

It is Northrop Grumman’s 15th station supply run for NASA. SpaceX is NASA’s other shipper.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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