Evelyn Boyd Granville was a black woman who pioneered NASA to get the first American on the moon with her mathematical skills. She died recently at the ripe old age of 99.
She was also the first of two Black women in the United States to get a PhD in mathematics. The Hollywood film Hidden Figures was largely based on her life.
She graduated from Smith College in Massachusetts and got her doctorate at Yale University in 1949. She then went on to do her postgraduate at the New York Institute for Mathematics and eventually took a teaching position at Fisk University.
She worked at IBM in 1956 and was part of the IBM team that NASA worked with in 1959.
The speciality of Dr Granville was the analysis and interplay of equations and variables which NASA used to get an edge in the space race with the Soviet Union at the time. Dr Granville was part of the company’s team that worked with NASA after founding it in 1958, one year after the USSR launched the Sputnik satellite.
At IBM, she was assigned to the satellite Project Vanguard. She told Scientific American magazine in 2014, “At the time, the satellite was the size of a grapefruit. We were writing programs for something up in the air the size of a grapefruit!”
After that, she was on Mercury’s astronaut program, which in February 1962 launched a rocket with John Glenn aboard as one of the first Americans to orbit Earth.
The brilliant Dr Granville wrote programs that tracked orbital trajectories, calculating the time to safely enter the atmosphere.
After her time with the space agency, she became a mathematics professor at California State University, where she taught students how to teach mathematics. She died peacefully at her home in Maryland on June 27.
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