June 15, 2021

Manchin Questions NASA Administrator On Funding For Katherine Johnson IV&V Facility, Increasing Diversity Within NASA

Washington, DC – Today, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, questioned NASA Administrator Bill Nelson during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science (CSJ) hearing.

Senator Manchin highlighted the invaluable contributions West Virginians, like Katherine Johnson, have made to NASA’s biggest achievements and advocated for funding for the Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Facility in Fairmont. In 2018, Senator Manchin cosponsored legislation to rename the NASA IV&V Facility after Katherine Johnson.

Senator Manchin said in part, “Every NASA mission relies on a team of scientists and engineers to design, manufacture, and verify that these spacecraft can indeed reach their intended target. You can’t just point a rocket into the sky and light the fuse, you have to verify that your trajectory reaches its destination and validate through complex calculations it will work. In the 1960s, those were done by hand, and for our most important flights, it was Katherine Johnson – a West Virginia native – that did them. Today, we use software to make those calculations. NASA’s Independent Verification and Validation facility in Fairmont, West Virginia bears her name and proudly carries her tradition by ensuring that this software is safe, reliable and can be trusted to ensure our missions are completed and get home safely. Safety costs money as you know, and the IV&V’s budget has been flat for over a decade. To address gaps in funding in the past few years, NASA has required its mission directorates to pay a portion of IV&V’s funding… So I think the most logical solution is to increase IV&V’s budget so that NASA’s mission directorates aren’t forced between their budgets and safety.”

After the death of Katherine Johnson in 2020, Senator Manchin led a resolution honoring her remarkable achievements and contributions. During the hearing, Senator Manchin also discussed how Mrs. Johnson broke barriers and spoke on the importance of increasing diversity for women of color, not only in NASA itself but the entire STEM field.

“After her passing last year at age 101, I led my colleagues in unanimously passing a resolution honoring the life and achievements of Katherine Johnson. She represents the very best of us, breaking down barriers of race, gender, and ensuring the safety of astronauts on countless missions during her decades, which you just mentioned one of the most famous, John Glenn. Unfortunately, NASA today is still underrepresented by women of color, particularly in its most senior levels. So I would ask, how many Katherine Johnsons have we missed over the years? How many young women, people of color, and others from rural areas like West Virginia could we have brought “hidden figures,” like Katherine, into the limelight?... What is NASA intending to or doing to continue to encourage diversity, not just at NASA itself, but the STEM education for young children and students around the country?,” Senator Manchin continued.

A video of Senator Manchin’s questions during the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science hearing can be found here.