Math & Beyond

Katherine Johnson - American mathematician

09 October 2020                

Read time: 5 minutes

Introduction

An American Mathematician who worked for 35 years for NASA as a Mathematician. Her calculations of orbital mechanics played an instrumental role to the success of U.S spaceflight. She is identified as one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist.


Biography

Geola Katherine Coleman was born on August 26, 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, U.S.

Geola Katherine Coleman was born on August 26, 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, U.S. She is also called Katherine Goble. She went to high school at the age of 10. In 1937, she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and French from the West Virginia state college (now called West Virginia State University). Then she moved to Virginia and began teaching.

In 1939, she was selected to be one of the first three African-American students to enroll in a West Virginia University graduate program. After studying math there, she decided to marry James Goble and live a family life. But James Goble died in 1956. She then married James Johnson three years later. In 1953, she started working at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics(NACA)’s West Area Computing Unit. She performed complex mathematical calculations manually for the engineer’s program. Her Computations were essential to the success of the early U.S space program. During the segregation of NACA, the West Computers are segregate to formed National Aeronation and Space Administration (NASA)

Katherine Johnson was a member of NASA’s Space Task Group

Katherine Johnson was a member of NASA’s Space Task Group. In 1960, she co-authored a paper with one of the group’s engineers. It was a thorough calculation to land a spacecraft in orbit. Katherine Johnson authored or co-authored 26 research reports during her career.

In NASA, Mercury program(1961-1963), Katherine Johnson plays an important role in crewed space flights. Remarkably, in 1961, she calculated the path for freedom 7. Freedom 7 is the spacecraft that put the first U.S astronaut Alan B, Shepard, Jr in space. She worked to verify the electronic computer, which had planned the flights correctly. In 1969, Katherine Johnson also calculated when and where the rocket of the Apollo 11 mission launched the first three men to the moon. She retired from NASA in 1986.


Achievements and Recognitions

President Barack Obama awarded Katherine Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom on 24th November, 2015.

Katherine Johnson also received a silver Snoopy award

In recognition of her work, on May 5, 2016 a new building of 40,000 square foot was named “Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility” in Virginia.

Katherine Johnson also received a silver Snoopy award; this award is given to those who have made outstanding contributions to flight safety and mission success.

She was on the BBC’s list of 100 women of influence worldwide in 2016. In the year 2016, NASA stated that “Her calculations proved as critical to the success of the Apollo Moon Landing program and the start of the space shuttle program, as they did to those first steps on the country’s journey into space”.

On May 12, 2018, She was awarded an honorary doctorate by the College of William and Mary.

In August 2018, West Virginia State University established a STEM Scholarship in honor of her and founded a full size statue of her on the campus.

In 2019, she was inducted into the inaugural class of government executives Hall of Fame.


Death

On 24th February 2020, she died in Newport News, Virginia, U.S. She died 101 years of age.


Katherine Johnson quotes

Here are some of Katherine Johnson’s quotes

  • Girls are capable of doing everything men are capable of doing. Sometimes they have more imagination than men.
  • Like what you do, and then you will do your best.
  • I don't have a feeling of inferiority. Never had. I'm as good as anybody, but no better.
  • I was excited at something new, always liked something new, but give credit to everybody who helped. I didn't do anything alone but try to go to the root of the question and succeeded there.
  • We will always have STEM with us. Some things will drop out of the public eye and will go away, but there will always be science, engineering, and technology. And there will always, always be mathematics.
  • Take all the courses in your curriculum. Do the research. Ask questions. Find someone doing what you are interested in! Be curious!

Summary

Katherine Goble Johnson made a lot of mathematical contributions to NASA. Due of her contributions, NASA was successful in numerous space projects. Although she passed away, her achievements will always be engraved in stone. She will be there forever in the chapters of history.

Written by Suganya Balaji, Cuemath Teacher


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What was Katherine Johnson’s maiden name?

Her maiden name was Coleman.

What is the age of Katherine Johnson at the time of her death?

She died at the age of 101 years.

To whom Katherine Johnson got married?

In 1939, she married James Goble. After James Goble died in 1956, she married James Johnson in 1959

Which President gave the Presidential Medal of Freedom award to Katherine Johnson?

President Barack Obama awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom Award to her in 2015.

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