West Virginia native and West Virginia State University graduate Katherine Johnson turned 101 on Monday.
As a mathematician, Johnson’s calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed spaceflights.
As a kid, Johnson loved mathematics and counting. “I counted everything,” she said in a profile published by NASA, “I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed … anything that could be counted, I did.”
During her 35-year career at NASA and its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, she earned a reputation for mastering complex manual calculations and helped pioneer the use of computers to perform the tasks. The space agency noted her “historical role as one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist.”
Johnson’s work included calculating trajectories, launch windows and emergency return paths for Project Mercury spaceflights, including those for astronauts Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and John Glenn, the first American in orbit; and rendezvous paths for the Apollo lunar module and command module on flights to the Moon. Her calculations were also essential to the beginning of the apace shuttle program, and she worked on plans for a mission to Mars.
In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Additionally, Johnson was portrayed by Taraji P. Henson as a lead character in the 2016 film, “Hidden Figures.”
Johnson is a living legend and role model in terms of influencing students to seek STEM education. She often speaks to students about her own extraordinary career and encourages all of them to pursue STEM careers. Johnson tells them, “We will always have STEM with us. Some things will drop out of the public eye and will go away, but there will always be science, engineering and technology. And there will always, always be mathematics. Everything is physics and math.”
Johnson’s love for mathematics and numbers served as an inspiration for me to construct the following number curiosities as a birthday gift in her honor:
1. If Johnson’s 101st birthday, 8/26/2019, is split as 8, 26, and 2019, note that 101 is the 26th prime number, the digits of 26 add up to 8, and the sum of the prime factors of 2019, namely 3 and 673, equals 26 square.
2. Further, 3 and 673 are the second and 122nd prime numbers, the sum of 2 and 122 equals twice 62, and 62 is the reverse of 26.
3. Johnson’s birthday always coincides with the 238th day of a non-leap year and interestingly, the prime factors of 238, namely 2, 7, and 17, add up to 26.
4. Also, twice the sum of the digits of 238 equals 26.
5. Furthermore, the reverse of 238, namely 832, equals 26 times the difference of the squares of the digits of 26.
6. Johnson’s birthday coincides with the 239th day of each leap year and interestingly, 239 is the 52nd prime number and 52 is twice 26.
7. The sum of the squares of the digits of Johnson’s birth date expressed as 8/26 equals 26 times the difference of the digits of 26.
8. Johnson’s 104th birthday in 2022 will be special since 104 is twice 8 times 26 (her birth date, 8/26).
9. Also, 2022 divided by the sum of its digits, namely 6, equals 337, the the 68th prime number, and interestingly, 68 is twice the sum of 8 and 26.
10. Lastly, the sum of the digits of Johnson’s 101st birthday expressed as 8/26/19 yields 26.
I wish you a happy 101st birthday, Katherine Johnson. Thank you for all your contributions to our world.