Katherine Johnson, 1918-2020

  • Katherine-Johnson-WWP

Woman Category: Academy & Education and Science & TechnologyWoman Tags: African-American Women, Mathematician, and Scientist

  • HerStory

    A mathematician and a human-computer, among the first African-American women who worked at NASA.

    Born as Katherine Coleman in West Virginia. From an early age, Johnson demonstrated high mathematical abilities, and by the age of 18, she earned Bachelor’s Degrees in Mathematics and French. Before she got pregnant and left school, Johnson was the first African-American woman to enroll in a graduate math program at West Virginia University.
    At age 35, she began to work as a human-computer at NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics), with a unit of African-American women who manually performed mathematical calculations for the program’s engineers, a work that was essential to the success of the early US Space Program. At that time NACA was segregated, and Johnson and her colleagues had to work, eat, and use the restrooms that were separated by race. The segregation was banned After the organization was incorporated into NASA.
    Katherine Johnson was a member of the Space Task Group and was the first woman to get credit for a paper that she co-authored with a group of engineers. Until her retirement in 1986 at the age of 70, Johnson worked as an aerospace technologist at NASA, helping to send John Glenn into orbit and the first men to the moon.
    She died on February 24th, 2020, at the age of 101.

    “Take all the courses in your curriculum. Do the research. Ask questions. Find someone doing what you are interested in! Be curious!”

    “Take all the courses in your curriculum. Do the research. Ask questions. Find someone doing what you are interested in! Be curious!”

    More Interesting Anecdotes:

    • In the movie ‘Hidden Figures’ (2017) which follows Johnson and her unit’s work at NASA, Taraji P. Henson played Johnson’s character.
    • In 2019 NASA West Virginia Facility Center was renamed after her.


  • More About Her Legacy

    * Presidential Medal of Freedom
    * De Pizan Honor from National Women's History Museum
    * Astronomical Society of the Pacific's Arthur B.C. Walker II Award
    * Inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in (2021)

  • Watch and Learn More

  • One of Her Landmarks

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  • What Matters - Katherine Johnson: NASA Pioneer and "Computer"

    This week, tune in for an incredible conversation with a NASA Langley pioneer. We'll meet the extraordinary woman whose math skills were so sharp, she was known as the "human computer." Katherine Johnson worked at NASA Langley in Hampton during the 1950's—a woman and an African-American who broke through barriers and made history along the way.

  • Photo credit - NASA.

  • Citations and Additional References:
    NASA website.
    Space,com website.
    Wikipedia page.