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Honoring a Role Model for All of Us

Katherine Johnson was honored last week by the agency that depended on her and others like her to make some of its biggest strides. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has renamed its Independent Verification and Validation Facility in Fairmont to honor Johnson, who was so well-trusted by the agency she was one of the “human computers” who labored behind the scenes as astronauts like Alan Sheppard and John Glenn prepared for their missions.

Born black and female in southern West Virginia in 1918, Johnson faced challenges most of us today cannot understand. She didn’t let any of it hold her back. In fact, she says she simply ignored them.

But her genius was not ignored by others. When Glenn was preparing for his 1962 mission to orbit the Earth, computers were not yet running the show, as they are today.

“Get (Johnson) to check the numbers,” he told NASA before the launch. “If she says the numbers are good I am ready to go.”

As is so often the case with true trailblazers, however, it took decades for Americans to learn the story of what Johnson accomplished. Real heroes spend more time and effort quietly going about the work they must do than tooting their own horns.

NASA’s move to honor Johnson is important — partly because Johnson thought of her own contribution as just doing her job.

“I think she’s inspiring generations now of young girls that want to go into the STEM fields and see success,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-West Virginia, said during the ceremony in Fairmont.

Johnson is an inspiration to anyone who is willing to work hard, get an education, reach for the stars and ignore obstacles to getting the job done. Thank goodness NASA finally saw fit to show how proud we are of her.

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