Let’s Celebrate Black History Month: Katherine Johnson
Celebrating a trailblazer in the world of STEM
February 24, 2021
Katherine Johnson, a scientist, mathematician, and pioneer in the field of aeronautics, left a permanent mark on human space travel. From a young age, Johnson was an academic phenom.
Born in 1918 in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia, she enrolled in high school at only 10 years of age. Later, Johnson would attend West Virginia State College where she would major in mathematics, aged just 14 years. By professors and teachers, she was touted not only for her extraordinary mind, but also for her inquisitive approach to learning and the desire to understand topics in deep detail.
After college, she began teaching in a black public high school. However, she would return to college after being selected as one of the first three black students for West Virginia State University’s graduate program. From there, Johnson furthered her studies and landed a job at the Langley Research Center of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (which would later be known as NASA). She worked as one of the “human computers,” calculating navigation and trajectories for flight paths. Despite the job being deemed as “temporary,” she would continue doing the work for 33 years.
Johnson’s work was a keystone to NASA’s missions during the 20th century. John Glenn, who piloted the first American orbit around earth, would not fly without her certification of calculations made by early computers.
Throughout her tenure, Johnson would be integral to NASA’s most prestigious missions. During the Apollo program, she calculated the flight trajectories for Apollo 11 and helped in the legendary Apollo 13 rescue. Later in her career, she would contribute to satellite relays and shuttle programs. In 2015, Johnson was recognized for her contributions to American space flight after being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Katherine G. Johnson | NASA. (n.d.). Retrieved February 22, 2021, from https://www.nasa.gov/feature/katherine-g-johnson
Loff, S. (2016, November 22). Katherine Johnson Biography [Text]. NASA. http://www.nasa.gov/content/katherine-johnson-biography
Loff, S. (2016, November 24). From Hidden to Modern Figures [Text]. NASA. http://www.nasa.gov/modernfigures/images
Wild, F. (2015, November 16). Katherine Johnson: A Lifetime of STEM [Text]. NASA. http://www.nasa.gov/audience/foreducators/a-lifetime-of-stem.html