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How to Free Your Inner MathematicianNotes on Mathematics and Life$
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Susan D'Agostino

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780198843597

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: April 2020

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198843597.001.0001

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Reach for the stars, just like Katherine Johnson

Reach for the stars, just like Katherine Johnson

(p.35) 5 Reach for the stars, just like Katherine Johnson
How to Free Your Inner Mathematician

Susan D'Agostino

Oxford University Press

“Reach for the stars, just like Katherine Johnson” tells the story of the mathematics and mathematician behind NASA’s 1961 Apollo spacecraft flown by astronaut John Glenn. When Glen grew concerned that NASA had switched to an inanimate computer for checking computations regarding re-entry into the atmosphere, he insisted that human computer and mathematician Katherine Johnson check the numbers. Johnson needed to consider drag, aerodynamic lift, vacuum perigee altitude, the spacecraft’s center of gravity, and more to ensure a safe reentry corridor. The discussion is illustrated with numerous hand-drawn sketches. Katherine Johnson, whose biography is summarized, was an African American woman who worked in NASA’s Research Flight Division at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Mathematics students and enthusiasts are encouraged to reach for literal and metaphorical stars in mathematical and life pursuits. At the chapter’s end, readers may check their understanding by working on a problem. A solution is provided.

Keywords:   Katherine Johnson, mathematician, NASA, human computer, drag, African American, woman, math

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