Alan Perry

The Sum of Her Numbers

for NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson (1918-2020)

The Observable Universe by Pablo Carlos Budassi

If I mark my life by space flights
I was a Sputnik kid playing tag
when man launched the first orbiting moon.

More unmanned satellites left Earth
until Katherine calculated the arc
of Shepard’s downrange drift

as I watched from a high school gym.
Glenn wouldn’t take off
without her personal digits

factoring the risk of never coming back.
Armstrong’s steps on the moon
were as assured as mine down the aisle

in a lunar new year wedding.
She knew the black box
calculations that defied

the gravity of earth’s pull
to reach escape velocity
for NASA astronauts

and those who followed.
Katherine served them all–
double-checked equations

lifted strangers above her
delivered life home from space.
Now, Mars flares

without her hidden figures
and we pause, not knowing where
she wants us to go next.


About the writer:
Alan Perry is the author of Clerk of the Dead, published by Main Street Rag Publishing in 2020. His poems have appeared in Tahoma Literary Review, Heron Tree, Gyroscope Review, and elsewhere. He was nominated for Best of the Net, and is a Senior Poetry Editor for Typehouse Literary Magazine.

Image: The Observable Universe by Pablo Carlos Budassi.  Artist’s logarithmic scale conception of the observable universe with the Solar System at the center, inner and outer planets, Kuiper belt, Oort cloud, Alpha Centauri, Perseus Arm, Milky Way galaxy, Andromeda galaxy, nearby galaxies, Cosmic Web, Cosmic microwave radiation and the Big Bang on the edge. 2012. By free license.