Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson (née Coleman; August 26, 1918 – February 24, 2020) was an American mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed spaceflights.[1] 

NASA space scientist, and mathematician Katherine Johnson poses for a…

NASA space scientist, and mathematician Katherine Johnson poses for a portrait at her desk with an adding machine and a ‘Celestial Training device’ at NASA Langley Research Center in 1962 in Hampton,… Get premium, high resolution news photos at Getty Images

During her 33-year career at NASA and its predecessor, she earned a reputation for mastering complex manual calculations and helped pioneer the use of computers to perform the tasks. The space agency noted her “historical role as one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist”.[2]

Johnson’s work included 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. She was known as a “human computer” for her tremendous mathematical capability and ability to work with space trajectories with such little technology and recognition at the time.

In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2016, she was presented with the Silver Snoopy Award by NASA astronaut Leland D. Melvin and a NASA Group Achievement Award. She was portrayed by Taraji P. Henson as a lead character in the 2016 film Hidden Figures. In 2019, Johnson was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by the United States Congress.[3] In 2021, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.[4]

“Katherine Johnson.” Wikipedia, en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Katherine_Johnson. Accessed 27 Aug. 2022.


Biography ~ 3-minute video


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“We needed to be assertive as women in those days – assertive and aggressive – and the degree to which we had to be that way depended on where you were. I had to be.

In the early days of NASA women were not allowed to put their names on the reports – no woman in my division had had her name on a report.

I was working with Ted Skopinski and he wanted to leave and go to Houston … but Henry Pearson, our supervisor – he was not a fan of women – kept pushing him to finish the report we were working on.

Finally, Ted told him, “Katherine should finish the report, she’s done most of the work anyway.”

So Ted left Pearson with no choice; I finished the report and my name went on it, and that was the first time a woman in our division had her name on something.” – Katherine Johnson

Warren, Wini (1999). Black Women Scientists in the United States. Indiana University Press. pp. 143ISBN 978-0-253-33603-3.

Check out this cartoon via The Week

Editorial Cartoons from The Week

NASA Mathematician, Recipient of Nations Highest Civilian Honor

Katherine Johnson spent more than three decades as a mathematician at NASA and the NACA.

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