Resnik Challenger Medal
Mary Kathleen Johnson
For landmark contributions to geosynchronous satellite station-keeping analysis; for charting her own path with curiosity and consummate expertise; and for mentoring and cultivating the next generation of women engineers.
Mary Kathleen Johnson is a senior staff engineer at Lockheed Martin (LM) Space, a division of the multinational Lockheed Martin Corporation. She is an expert in satellite mission analysis and design, with a specialty in geosynchronous station-keeping. Satellites in a geosynchronous orbit appear to be nearly stationary in the sky, relative to the viewer on Earth, and serve as highly valued data relay centers, communication hubs, or watchful eyes for hurricanes or missile launches. Station-keeping is essential to maintaining these satellites’ orbits in the face of gravitational effects.
Johnson grew up in Huntsville, “The Rocket City,” Alabama, a child of the space program. As the daughter of a NASA engineer, the space program’s successes and failures were daily topics of conversation. She had the privilege of experiencing firsthand two space shuttle launches, including the one that lifted the first American woman into space.
She was a senior in high school when the Challenger space shuttle accident galvanized her choice of a space industry career. After graduating from Auburn University, she joined LM Space, where she charted her own path, seeking out roles where she could apply her skills and interests in space flight, specifically Earth-orbiting satellites. She rose to senior staff engineer five years earlier than the position is typically granted to high-performing individuals. Today, Johnson is recognized by her peers and leadership as the expert in geosynchronous orbital motion and station-keeping, and is sought after across LM Space for her technical expertise.
Johnson’s groundbreaking work centers on her creation of the Geosynchronous Station-keeping Analysis Module (GSAM), a proprietary simulation that has become essential in investigating and validating strategies in station-keeping propellant reduction. GSAM has been implemented by either Johnson or one of her mentees for the analysis of every geosynchronous satellite built by LM Space since 2001.
She shares her wealth of technical knowledge through writing, teaching, and mentoring. She has authored more than 50 internal technical documents, several of which are key resources used within her peer group. She has presented her work at conferences and developed and delivered a recorded eight-hour course in her area of expertise. Johnson works collaboratively with her technical mentees on projects, ensuring they have the experience necessary to become the next generation of experts at LM to tackle future challenges in geosynchronous station-keeping. She particularly mentors women engineers, helping them navigate technical careers in a male-dominated field.
For her skillful use of GSAM’s evolving capabilities in satellite rescue and recovery missions, Johnson was honored with LM’s highest recognition, the NOVA Award for Team Excellence, and several LM Space Team Excellence Awards over the course of her career.
Johnson holds a B.S. and M.S. in aerospace engineering from Auburn University. She lives in San Jose, California, with her husband, Shawn, where she enjoys hiking, backpacking, and gardening. She also participates in aerial yoga, hula-hoop dance (including fire hoop), and social ballroom dance.