Katherine G. Johnson was born on August 26, 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. Her mother, Joylette, was a teacher and her father, Joshua, was a farmer and janitor. Johnson was a gifted child, especially in mathematics. Her family moved over 100 miles away from their hometown so Katherine and her siblings could go to school. By the age of 14, Katherine had already graduated from high school. She then attended West Virginia State University where she received a B.S. in French and Mathematics in 1932. After college, she taught elementary and high schools in Virginia and West Virginia.
Katherine's hometown is the red dot on the map
Her time at NASA
In 1953, Katherine joined the Langley Research Center as a research mathematician for NACA (now known as NASA). She was the only female in the program and was often faced with adversity when presenting her work and new ideas for improvement. After a while, the members of the program realized how amazing she was at mathematics, especially analytical geometry. Her expertise helped her to achieve things women (especially women of color) had never been able to achieve before. She became well-respected by her team members and she was included in what had been all-male conferences to share her knowledge with others. Later, she joined the Spacecraft Controls Branch (also a part of NASA) where she calculated the flight trajectory for Alan Shepard in 1959. Johnson also verified the mathematics behind John Glenn’s orbit around the Earth in 1962 and calculated the flight trajectory for Apollo 11’s flight to the moon in 1969. Without her hard work and determination, these missions would have taken considerably longer to achieve.