Katherine Johnson, née Katherine Coleman, also known as (1939–56) Katherine Goble, (born August 26, 1918, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, USA, Died On February 24, 2020), American mathematics that calculated and analyzed the routes of many spacecraft during their more than three decades with the American space program. His work helped send astronauts to the moon.
Coleman’s intelligence and skill with numbers became apparent as a child, and, by the time she was 10, she had started attending high school. In 1937, at age 18, Coleman graduated with the highest honors from West Virginia State College (now West Virginia State University), earning a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and French. He later moved to Virginia to take a teaching job. In 1939, however, she was selected to be one of the first three African-American students to enroll in a graduate program at the University of West Virginia. She studied mathematics there, but soon left after marrying James Goble and deciding to start a family. He died in 1956, and three years later married James Johnson.
In 1953 she began working in the West Area Computing Unit of the National Aeronautics Advisory Committee (NACA), a group of African-American women who manually performed complex mathematical calculations for program engineers. The women, known as West Computers, analyzed the test data and provided mathematical calculations that were essential to the success of the first U.S. space program. During this time, NACA was segregated, and West computers had to use separate bathrooms and dining rooms. That changed in 1958 when NACA joined the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), which banned segregation.
At NASA, Johnson was a member of the Space Task Force. In 1960, she co-authored a job with one of the group’s engineers on the calculations to put a spacecraft into orbit. It was the first time a woman in his division received credit as the author of an investigative report. Johnson was the author or co-author of 26 investigative reports during her career.
Johnson also played a major role in NASA’s Mercury program (1961-1963) of manned spaceflight. In 1961 he calculated the path for Freedom 7, the spacecraft that put the first American astronaut in space, Alan B. Shepard, Jr. The following year, at John Glenn’s request, Johnson verified that the electronic computer had planned its flight correctly. Glenn later made history aboard Friendship 7, becoming the first American astronaut to orbit Earth. Johnson was also part of the team that calculated where and when to launch the rocket for the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, which sent the first three men to the Moon. Johnson then worked on the space shuttle program. He retired from NASA in 1986.
Johnson received numerous awards and honors for his work, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2015). In 2016, NASA named a building, the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Center, after it. That year, Margot Lee Shetterly published Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, about West Computers, including Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. A film based on the book was also released in 2016.
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