MLK Day Observance: Thomas Nelson to Present its 12th Presidential Leadership Award to NASA's Langley Research Center

January 12, 2018
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In observance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, Thomas Nelson Community College will present its 12th Annual Presidential Leadership Award to NASA’s Langley Research Center for strides in diversity. Featuring retired NASA research mathematician Katherine Johnson via video, the award ceremony will take place Thursday, Jan. 18 at 7:15 p.m. at the Hampton campus in Templin Hall’s Dr. Mary T. Christian Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public.

The College established its Presidential Leadership Award to honor King's life and work by recognizing an outstanding community leader or entity.

The relationship between Thomas Nelson and NASA spans decades dating back to the 1970s. At the Hampton-based center, cooperative education programs such as SpaceTEC® along with various apprenticeships and employment opportunities have enriched the lives of Thomas Nelson STEM students and contributed to the region’s economic vitality. Through these opportunities, Thomas Nelson students have gained valuable career experience in several areas at NASA including research, flight operations and simulation, fabrication technology and center operations, among other specializations that are critical to aeronautics, space exploration and atmospheric science.

The facility known as NASA’s Langley Research Center was founded July 17, 1917. It is the agency’s first field center as well as the nation’s first civilian aeronautical laboratory. In its early years, the center’s discoveries helped American aviation soar. Langley engineers partnered with the military on the Bell X-1, an experimental aircraft that Chuck Yeager flew when breaking the sound barrier in 1947. The American space program traces its roots to Langley, where the nation’s original astronauts, the Mercury 7, began their training. Apollo astronauts including Neil Armstrong practiced for the Moon landing at the center’s Lunar Landing Research Facility.

Atmospheric science research work at Langley began in the 1970s and continues to provide vital insights in areas of study including atmospheric composition, radiation, climate and tropospheric chemistry.

Today, the center remains one of NASA’s primary research facilities specializing in aeronautics, space technology, exploration and Earth science.

Johnson, an African-American pioneer in mathematics, worked at NASA and its precursor, National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), for 33 years before retiring in 1986. She calculated the trajectories, launch windows and emergency backup return paths for numerous NASA missions and was well-known for her computerized celestial navigation. When NASA utilized electronic computers for the first time on John Glenn's orbit of Earth in 1962, he refused to fly unless Johnson verified the calculations using her desktop mechanical calculating machine. She also worked on Alan Shepard's space flight in 1961, the Apollo 11 flight to the Moon in 1969, the Apollo 13 Moon Mission in 1970 and many others. In 2015, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama. A year later, NASA dedicated the Langley Research Center's Katherine G. Johnson Computational Building in her honor.

Born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Johnson graduated from high school at age 14 and earned degrees math and French from West Virginia State College at 18. After a 10-year teaching career, she took a job at the West Area Computing section of NACA’s Langley laboratory in 1953.

Learn more about NASA’s Langley Research Center at For more information about the Jan. 18 event, contact Thomas Nelson Communications and Marketing at (757) 825-2725.