Katherine Johnson: What to know concerning the ‘Hidden Figures’ NASA scientist

Pioneering NASA mathematician Katherine Coleman Johnson of “Hidden Figures” fame was at all times on the entrance of the class

Born on Aug. 26, 1918, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, the long-lasting “human pc” was taking courses on the campus of traditionally Black West Virginia State Faculty on the age of 13. 

There, Johnson discovered a mentor in William Waldron Schieffelin Claytor, a professor who had grow to be the third-ever African American to earn a Ph.D.. in arithmetic. 


The intense, younger scholar earned bachelor’s levels in each math and French, and commenced instructing each topics at a Black public college in Virginia. 

In 1939, Johnson was hand-picked by West Virginia State President John W. Davis as one of many three Black college students to combine West Virginia College, the place she enrolled within the graduate math program.

Johnson determined to depart early, nonetheless, to start out a household along with her first husband James Goble. They’d three daughters collectively.

In 1952, after having returned to instructing, a relative instructed Johnson about open positions on the all-Black West Space Computing part on the Nationwide Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) at Langley laboratory.

Johnson started working on the then-segregated Langley in the summertime of 1953. Two weeks later, fellow West Virginian and program head Dorothy Vaughan assigned Johnson to a mission within the Maneuver Hundreds Department of the Flight Analysis Division. 

The mathematics genius would spend the following 4 years in aeronautics, analyzing knowledge from flight exams and investigating a airplane crash attributable to wake turbulence.

Goble died of most cancers in December 1956. The subsequent yr, the Soviet Union launched its Sputnik satellite tv for pc, sparking the area struggle. 

In 1958, Johnson supplied a few of the math for the 1958 doc Notes on Area Expertise — the company’s first complete reference doc on spaceflight, in accordance with the scientific journal Nature — and engineers from the compendium shaped the core of the Area Job Group.

It was NACA’s first official step into area journey earlier than it was integrated into what’s now often known as NASA. 


In 1959, Johnson married adorned Navy and Military officer James A. Johnson.

Within the Nineteen Sixties, Johnson continued advancing her profession, co-authoring Willpower of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Inserting a Satellite tv for pc Over a Chosen Earth Place —  a report laying out the equations describing an orbital spaceflight throughout which the touchdown place of the spacecraft is specified. 

It was the primary time a girl within the Flight Analysis Division had obtained credit score as an writer of a analysis report.

Johnson additionally labored on trajectory evaluation for Alan Shepard’s Might 1961 mission Freedom 7 — America’s first human spaceflight. 

In maybe her most well-known achievement, she was tasked in 1962 with checking the orbital equations controlling the trajectory of John Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission by hand as a part of the preflight guidelines. 

Whereas the mission had required the development of a worldwide communications community that linked monitoring stations worldwide to IBM computer systems in Washington, D.C., Bermuda and Cape Canaveral, Florida, astronauts had been cautious of placing their lives within the arms of the machines which might usually malfunction.

On July 20, 1969, NASA Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins landed on the Moon — a mission for which Johnson additionally carried out instrumental calculations. 

She additionally proved a useful asset in the course of the April 1970 Apollo 13 mission, serving to to supply backup procedures that ensured the crew’s secure return.

Johnson authored and co-authored a complete of 26 analysis experiences throughout her tenure. She retired in 1986 after 33 years at Langley. 

She cited engaged on the calculations that helped synch Challenge Apollo’s Lunar Module with the lunar-orbiting Command and Service Module, the Area Shuttle and the Earth Sources Expertise Satellite tv for pc (extra just lately often known as Landsat) amongst her best accomplishments.

In 2015, on the age of 97, then-President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


In 2016, Johnson’s story was shared within the function movie “Hidden Figures” and Margot Lee Shetterly’s e book “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Ladies Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Area Race.”

Three years later, Johnson instructed her personal story in a e book for younger readers known as “Reaching for the Moon.”

NASA additionally named a constructing, the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Analysis Facility, after her and the S.S. Katherine Johnson spacecraft was launched to the Worldwide Area Station in February.

Johnson died on Feb. 24, 2020. She was 101. 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *