Who is Katherine Johnson?

Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson was an American mathematician who worked for NASA for 35 years. Her calculations of orbital mechanics were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed spaceflights. Katherine Johnson mastered complex manual calculations and helped pioneer the use of computers to perform the tasks.

Mrs. Johnson’s was responsible for calculating trajectories, launch windows and emergency return paths for Project Mercury spaceflights, including those for astronauts Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and John Glenn, the first American in orbit, and rendezvous paths for the Apollo Lunar Module and command module on flights to the Moon. Her calculations were also essential to the beginning of the Space Shuttle program, and she worked on plans for a mission to Mars.

Katherine Johnson
Aug. 26, 1918, to Feb. 24, 2020

10 Things you need to know about Katherine Johnson

  1. Katherine Johnson is one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist.
  2. She was one of three black students to integrate West Virginia’s graduate schools.
  3. She graduated with B.S., Mathematics, and French from West Virginia State College in 1937.
  4. Mrs. Johnson was a school teacher prior to working at West Area Computing section at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA’s) Langley laboratory.
  5. In 1957, she provided some of the math for the 1958 document Notes on Space Technology, a compendium of a series of 1958 lectures given by engineers in the Flight Research Division and the Pilotless Aircraft Research Division (PARD).
  6. Katherine Johnson worked on the Space Shuttle and the Earth Resources Satellite (later renamed Landsat) and authored or co-authored 26 research reports. 
  7. In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
  8. In 2019, Mrs. Johnson was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal
  9. She was portrayed by Taraji P. Henson as a lead character in the 2016 film Hidden Figures.
  10. She died on February 24, 2020. She was 101 years old.

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