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Katherine Johnson to Receive ASP's New Arthur B.C. Walker II Award

Press Release From: Astronomical Society of the Pacific
Posted: Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Katherine Johnson, NASA mathematician who calculated and verified the trajectories that took the first Americans into space and to the Moon, will be the inaugural recipient of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific’s Arthur B.C. Walker II Award. The Arthur B.C. Walker II Award recognizes outstanding achievement by an African American in astronomy and for actively promoting diversity in science. Katherine Johnson turns 98 years old in August and her family will accept the award on her behalf on October 22, 2017, during the ASP’s Annual Award Gala in Burlingame, California. Katherine Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2015.

Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson (born August 26, 1918) is a space scientist and mathematician who made major contributions to aeronautics for NASA’s space programs from 1953 to 1986. Known for the accuracy of her orbital calculations, she determined the trajectory for Project Mercury and the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon. When NASA used electronic computers for the first time to calculate John Glenn’s orbit around Earth, Glenn insisted that she verify the computer’s numbers. NASA dedicated the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia on May 5, 2016. This occurred on the 55th anniversary of Alan Shepard’s historic rocket launch and splash down, which Katherine Johnson helped make possible through her calculations. After retiring from NASA, Johnson dedicated herself to inspiring young people to pursue careers in science, mathematics, and engineering.

Arthur B.C. Walker II (1936-2001), Professor of Physics and Applied Physics at Stanford University, was a renowned and highly respected aerospace engineer and solar physicist. While at Stanford, Arthur was an active member of the Center for Space Science and Astrophysics and chaired the Astronomy Program from 1977 until 1980. His most significant contribution to academic life at Stanford was mentoring underrepresented graduate students in science, namely women and African-Americans. Among these students was Sally Ride, the first female U.S. astronaut. He was also a leader of the African American community at Stanford and the longest serving member of the advisory committee for the Afro-American studies program. He served as a role model for many of the young African-American assistant professors including Condoleezza Rice.

NASA recognized his lifetime of service during a combined meeting of the National Conference for Black Students and the National Society of Black Physicists in 2001. Dr. Walker’s devotion to science and service encouraged and promoted African Americans to enter physics as a profession at all levels.

The ASP’s Arthur B.C. Walker II Award has been established to honor an outstanding scientist whose research and educational efforts substantially contributes to astronomy and who has (1) demonstrated a substantial commitment to mentoring students from underrepresented groups pursuing degrees in astronomy and/or (2) been instrumental in creating or supporting innovative and successful STEM programs designed to support underrepresented students or their teachers.

The Arthur B.C. Walker II Award also includes an “Arthur B.C. Walker II Scholarship” which the recipient gives to a student of their choice. In addition, and perhaps even more important than the financial benefit, the prestigious scholarship from the ASP will help support the student’s academic and career goals.

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