Anngie Johnson: A Passion for Service
By Edward S. Goldstein
Multifaceted career - Researcher, manager and mentor Anngie Johnson
Over the course of her 40-year NASA career, Dr. Anngienetta “Anngie” Johnson, senior advisor for Safety and Mission Assurance, has put into practice her guiding philosophy of “servanthood.” By that she means the gift of “wanting to help people.”
From her role in helping to develop NASA’s Earth observing spacecraft, to her leadership on a NASA partnership with the National Science Foundation to promote collaborative science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) educational programs, to her work evaluating NASA’s disaster response plans and her co-authorship of a chapter in “Success Strategies for Women in Science,” the concept of service has defined Johnson’s work.
Johnson credits this gift, and her self-described status as a “consummate lifelong learner” to her parents Josie and Duel, who though lacking in formal education, always encouraged her to excel in her studies and use her scientific talents for the benefits of others. Indeed, for her doctoral studies in engineering management with a specialty in emergency management at George Washington University, she wrote the requirements for a remote sensing instrument that would detect forest fires.
While an undergraduate student at Texas Woman’s University, Johnson was offered a chance to participate in NASA’s Co-op (Cooperative Education) program at the Johnson Space Center. Speaking at her 40th high school reunion, she recalled, “Every emotion one can think of welled up inside of me, fear being the most prominent. How could I work with those geniuses?” But hold her own she did, and despite not having computer training in college, she taught herself FORTRAN, and began to write programs to process data from Apollo. Later, when JSC brought in their first desktop computer, she was asked to demonstrate it for all her fellow programmers. In 1981, as a flight operations employee, Johnson was payload officer for STS-2, the first African-American to manage a “front” room console position in mission control. During this period she also volunteered to fly in the KC-135 (Vomit Comet) to help with human studies on the effects of zero gravity.
Johnson stated that her NASA career was not without setbacks. Her application to become an astronaut was not accepted. And there were times, she said, when “my efforts were scoffed at, my works stolen, my abilities ignored.” But she persevered and was recruited to be the Information Technology (IT) lead for the International Space Station, where she ran the groups that were collecting IT requirements for the program. More recently, Johnson helped develop a strategy to utilize the space station as an educational venue.
When asked about future goals, Johnson said, “I really want to be a mentor, to make a difference. What would really mean success to me is to have NASA employees, especially minorities, learn from my experiences, both positive and negative, and then step way up and make that progression faster and easier. I hope they will no longer be the exception to the rule. It will just be a norm for minorities to progress at NASA.” A fitting goal for a person who stated she “always wanted to link my science passions with my giving passions.”
Dr. Anngienetta Johnson