Recently made popular by the movie Hidden Figures, Katherin Johnson’s talent and life were nothing short of remarkable.
Born in White Springs, West Virginia, Katherin proved to be a gifted Mathematician at an early age. She had completed the eighth grade by the age of ten and when it came time to go to high school her father drove her 120 miles just so that she could attend a school for black teenagers since there were none in her area. She went on to graduate from college at the age of 18. after a brief stint at the recently desegregated West Virginia Graduate School she began teaching math and French.
However, in 1952 an opportunity arose that she could not pass up. NASA was looking for African-American women to perform and check calculations for their technology developments. They called these women “computers.”
So Katherine and her family packed everything up and moved to Virginia where she was accepted for a position at Langley Research Center. She excelled in her work and was transferred to Langley’s flight research division.
In 1958 Katherin was given the responsibility of figuring out now to get a human into space and more importantly, bringing them back. She was the one responsible for plotting Alan Shephard’s path in 1961. Katherine was a valuable asset to NASA. Her work was so trusted that John Glenn refused to take his historic flight until she tested the numbers.
Before she retired in 1986 she worked on the space shuttle program and on plans for a mission to mars.
If you are as inspired by Katherine Johnson as I am, check out these books:
- Hidden Figures by Margaret Lee Shetterly The true story of the women behind the NASA astronaut program.
- The Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt The story of the women who transformed the Space Race with their mathematical abilities.
- A Mighty Long Way by Carlotta Walls LaNier Carlotta was one of the “Little Rock Nine” who were the first children to be integrated into the segregated Little Rock school system. This book gives a first-hand look at the struggled African Americans faced when schools were first desegregated.