Katherine Johnson was a pioneering African American mathematician who made critical contributions to America’s space program during the 20th century. Her work laid the foundation for the successful manned missions to the moon and beyond. Despite facing numerous obstacles as a woman and an African American in a field dominated by white males, Katherine Johnson broke down barriers and paved the way for future generations of women and people of color in STEM.
Early Life and Education
Katherine Johnson was born on August 26, 1918, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. She showed a remarkable aptitude for mathematics from a young age and was one of three African American students selected to integrate West Virginia’s graduate schools in the late 1930s. Katherine Johnson received her Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and French from West Virginia State College in 1937, and later received her Master’s degree in Mathematics from West Virginia University.
A Career at NASA’s Predecessor
After graduating, Katherine Johnson began working as a teacher before accepting a position as a research mathematician at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the predecessor to NASA, in 1953. At NACA, Katherine Johnson worked on various projects related to aircraft performance, including the calculation of flight paths for the first manned spaceflights. Her work was critical to the success of NASA’s early missions, including the first successful manned orbital flight by astronaut John Glenn in 1962.
Pioneering Contributions to America’s Space Program
Katherine Johnson’s work at NASA was ground-breaking and paved the way for future generations of women and people of color in STEM. Despite facing discrimination and racism, Katherine Johnson was determined to make a difference and used her exceptional mathematical skills to solve complex problems. Her work on the Apollo 11 mission, which put the first human beings on the moon in 1969, was particularly noteworthy. She calculated the trajectory for the lunar landing, ensuring that the spacecraft would be able to safely land on the moon and return to Earth.
Retirement and Legacy
Katherine Johnson retired from NASA in 1986 after a long and distinguished career. Despite her many achievements, Katherine Johnson remained humble and dedicated to inspiring the next generation of mathematicians and scientists. In 2015, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, for her pioneering work in mathematics and her contributions to America’s space program. Katherine Johnson passed away on February 24, 2020, but her legacy will continue to inspire future generations.
Katherine Johnson was a pioneering African American mathematician who made critical contributions to America’s space program. Despite facing numerous obstacles as a woman and an African American in a field dominated by white males, Katherine Johnson broke down barriers and paved the way for future generations of women and people of color in STEM. Her exceptional mathematical skills, determination, and dedication to her work will continue to inspire future generations for years to come.