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NASA’s quiet secret weapon

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in Best-Practices Leadership,Leaders & Managers

Key to the success of NASA’s Apollo 11 moon landing was an unassuming black woman named Katherine Johnson. Working for NASA before the advent of powerful computers, Johnson possessed a keen wit, ambition and self-confidence, having graduated from college at age 18.

John Glenn himself had her double-check the computer calculations before his historic orbit of the earth.

“In math, you’re either right or you’re wrong,” Johnson says.

Using a slide rule and a pencil, Johnson plotted Alan Shepard’s flight path that took Apollo 11 to the moon, circled it, landed on it and returned safely home.

At age 96 in 2015, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

— Adapted from “Katherine Johnson, the NASA Mathematician,” Charles Bolden, Vanity Fair.

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