Katherine Johnson

Did you know that Katherine Johnson was an American mathematician who contributed significantly to the success of the American Space Program?
Katherine Johnson was born in Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, in 1918. As a young child, Johnson was very intelligent and had a large interest in STEM. At the age of 13, she began attending high school and later graduated from West Virginia State College with the highest honors. After spending several years teaching, Johnson returned to school as the only female Black woman in her class at West Virginia University. Although successful in school, she decided to return to teaching in order to put more focus on growing her family. In 1952, Johnson pursued a temporary job in computing at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. During that time, she analyzed flight test data and investigated plane crashes. In 1958, after working at NACA for six years, NACA officially turned into NASA, shifting the main focus of Johnson’s work from air travel to space travel. The years following the creation of NASA defined Johnson’s career, as her work contributed significantly to the success of the Mercury Program to put Americans into space. On one occasion, John Glenn, an American astronaut, asked specifically for Johnson to check his coordinates that had previously been performed by the computer before he went on his mission, as he trusted her calculations more than the computer. Glenn’s mission was successful, thanks to Johnson and all her hard work. Johnson also went on to do work on the Apollo Program and the Space Shuttle Program. She retired from her position in 1986, after working for NASA for 33 years. In 2015, she was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by then-President, Barack Obama. Sadly, several years after receiving the award, Johnson passed away in 2020 at the age of 101 years old. Johnson will forever be a role model to young women everywhere, as she didn’t let the discrimination that she faced due to her race or her gender stop her from achieving her life goals.
Cite: Loff, Sarah. “Katherine Johnson Biography.” NASA, NASA, 22 Nov. 2016, www.nasa.gov/content/katherine-johnson-biography

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