Counting on Katherine: How Katherine Johnson Saved Apollo 13
“Katherine Johnson loved to count. She counted the steps to the road. The steps up to church. The number of dishes and spoons she washed in the bright white sink.”
And so opens Helaine Becker’s straightforward, understated biography of a small African-American girl who was a mathematical genius. Katherine wanted to learn, despite the roadblocks placed in her path. When she was ready for high school at age 10, her father moved the family to a town with a high school for black students. After graduating, Katherine became a teacher and loved her job. But she continued dreaming of becoming a research mathematician “making discoveries about the number patterns that are the foundations of our universe.”
In 1953, Katherine was hired as a “computer” (a research mathematician) for the agency that became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA.) Her brilliant calculations literally launched rockets and brought them safely back to earth. Whenever she was asked to help, she always responded, “You can count on me,” just like her father had promised Katherine.
John Glenn refused to fly Friendship 7 until Katherine okayed the numbers. And when an oxygen tank on Apollo 13 exploded, it was Katherine’s computations that saved the mission and the lives of the three astronauts.
With changing perspectives, Dow Phumiruk’s illustrations depict Katherine in a stylized manner yet gives her a distinctive appearance as she matures. Mathematical formulas swirl through the end papers and the lovely last double page illustration of Katherine and the moon.
Kemie Nix ©2018 Parents’ Choice
Kemie Nix is Chairman of Children’s Literature for Children (CLC), a non-profit, tax-exempt, educational organization dedicated to bringing children and books together. Mrs. Nix, a senior book editor for Parents’ Choice, has a remarkable sense of selecting books children love to read.