President Obama recognized the latest recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom earlier today in a ceremony at the White House. It’s the highest civilian honor a president can bestow for services to the country, and this year’s group include two people recognized for their contributions to science or science policy.
Katherine Johnson is a mathematician whose work for the government included service at NASA and its predecessor agency, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). Her 33 year career at both agencies included calculations critical to every human spaceflight program from Mercury through the Space Shuttle. As one of the first African American women who worked for NACA and NASA, Johnson has also worked hard to encourage other women and minorities to pursue education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Also recognized this week is William Ruckelshaus, a two-time Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). He was the first to head the agency, serving from 1970-1973 under President Nixon. Ruckelshaus instituted the U.S. ban on the pesticide DDT. He returned to the agency as President Reagan’s second EPA Administrator from 1983-1985. Ruckelshaus also served as Deputy Attorney General and Acting FBI Director during the Nixon Administration, and was involved in environmental protection matters during the 1960s in Indiana. Now living in Washington state, Ruckelshaus has kept active in local and national ocean and environmental matters, being appointed to various panels by both President Clinton and President George W. Bush.
Congratulations to both Ruckelshaus and Williams, and the other medal recipients.