Math in Outer Space

May 3, 2023 | Schertz

62 years ago in the month of May, Alan Shepard was launched into history aboard a Mercury Redstone rocket, becoming the first American astronaut in space.

On May 5, 1961, Shepard rocketed into space inside his Freedom 7 capsule. The sub-orbital flight, which lasted just over 15 minutes, reached an altitude of 116 miles, and proved that NASA could send humans into space. Katherine Johnson, the trailblazing NASA research mathematician, even ran the trajectory analysis for the flight!

Freedom 7 splashed down near the Bahamas and was recovered by the nearby U.S. Navy carrier Lake Champlain. Shepard was a hero. Upon his return, he was invited to the White House where President Kennedy bestowed him with the Distinguished Service Medal. The mission was hailed as a success and a ticker-tape parade in New York City celebrated Shepard’s daring accomplishment.

Math is important to astronauts because it impacts how they can safely perform their jobs. Astronauts must rely on their math knowledge to ensure a successful takeoff from Earth, expertly direct their spacecraft, and to ensure a safe landing, often without the luxury of a calculator! Miscalculations in either of these instances could put the space crew in harm's way.

If you have dreams of blasting into space on a rocket and seeing Earth from up above, tune in for the next blog to find out how math can get you there!