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Katherine G. Johnson

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Information about Katherine G. Johnson

Profile image of Katherine G. Johnson

Profession

Category:
ScienceMakers
Occupation(s):
Computer Scientist

Favorites

Favorite Color:
None
Favorite Food:
None
Favorite Time of Year:
Fall
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Hawaii
Favorite Quote:
For Pete's sake.

Birthplace

Born:
8/26/1918
Birth Location:
White Sulphur, West Virginia

Profession

Category:
ScienceMakers
Occupation(s):
Computer Scientist

Favorites

Favorite Color:
None
Favorite Food:
None
Favorite Time of Year:
Fall
Favorite Vacation Spot:
Hawaii
Favorite Quote:
For Pete's sake.

Birthplace

Born:
8/26/1918
Birth Location:
White Sulphur
See how Katherine G. Johnson is related to other HistoryMakers

Biography

Mathematician and computer scientist Katherine Johnson was born on August 26, 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia to Joylette and Joshua Coleman. Her mother was a teacher and her father was a farmer and janitor. From a young age, Johnson enjoyed mathematics and could easily solve mathematical equations. Her father moved Johnson’s family to Institute, West Virginia, which was 125 miles away from the family home so that Johnson and her siblings could attend school. She attended West Virginia State High School and graduated from high school at age fourteen. Johnson received her B.S. degree in French and mathematics in 1932 from West Virginia State University (formerly West Virginia State College). At that time, Dr. W.W. Schiefflin Claytor, the third African American to earn a Ph.D. degree in mathematics, created a special course in analytic geometry specifically for Johnson. In 1940, she attended West Virginia University to obtain a graduate degree. Johnson was one of the first African Americans to enroll in the mathematics program. However, family issues kept her from completing the required courses.

After college, Johnson began teaching in elementary and high schools in Virginia and West Virginia. In 1953, she joined Langley Research Center (LaRC) as a research mathematician for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). Johnson was assigned to the all-male flight research division. Her knowledge made her invaluable to her superiors and her assertiveness won her a spot in previously all-male meetings. NACA became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958. Upon leaving The Flight Mechanics Branch, Johnson went on to join the Spacecraft Controls Branch where she calculated the flight trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American to go into space 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. She retired from NASA in 1986.

Johnson has been the recipient of NASA’s Lunar Spacecraft and Operation’s Group Achievement Award and NASA’s Apollo Group Achievement Award. She received the NASA Langely Research Center Special Achievement Award in 1971, 1980, 1984, 1985 and 1986. Johnson has co-authored twenty-six scientific papers and has a historically unique listing as a female co-author in a peer-reviewed NASA report. She also received an Honorary Doctor of Laws from the State University of New York in Farmingdale in 1998 and in 1999, was named Outstanding Alumnus of the Year by West Virginia State College. In 2006, Johnson was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science from Capitol College of Laurel, Maryland. Johnson lives with her husband Lt. Colonel James A. Johnson in Hampton, Virginia and has three daughters Constance, Joylette and Kathy.

Katherine Johnson was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on February 6, 2012.

See how Katherine G. Johnson is related to other HistoryMakers
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  • Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Katherine Johnson's interview
  • Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Katherine Johnson lists her favorites
  • Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Katherine Johnson describes her mother's history
  • Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Katherine Johnson describes her father's history
  • Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Katherine Johnson talks about White Sulphur Springs and how her parents met
  • Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Katherine Johnson talks about her early childhood years
  • Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Katherine Johnson describes her early school days at White Sulphur Grade School
  • Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Katherine Johnson talks about her inquisitive nature and early education
  • Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Katherine Johnson remembers her favorite teachers
  • Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Katherine Johnson describes growing up during the Great Depression near West Virginia State University
  • Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Katherine Johnson talks about some of the famous personalities that visited West Virginia State University High School
  • Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Katherine Johnson talks about her brothers
  • Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Katherine Johnson remembers attending West Virginia State University High School
  • Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Katherine Johnson describes the racial climate in Institute and Charleston, West Virginia
  • Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Katherine Johnson describes her extracurricular activities in at West Virginia State High School
  • Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Katherine Johnson talks about her introduction to aeronautics
  • Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Katherine Johnson talks about her involvement with Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority
  • Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Katherine Johnson talks about her mentor John F. Matthews
  • Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Katherine Johnson talks about her early career and marriage to James Francis Gobel
  • Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Katherine Johnson talks about her early work at NASA
  • Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Katherine Johnson describes her experience as a black woman at NASA
  • Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Katherine Johnson talks about Sputnik and the history of space flight (part 1)
  • Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Katherine Johnson talks about Sputnik and the history of space flight (part 2)
  • Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Katherine Johnson talks about her work computing flight trajectories for NASA
  • Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Katherine Johnson talks about her marriage to Lieutenant Colonel James Johnson
  • Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Katherine Johnson talks about her publications
  • Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Katherine Johnson discusses other aspects of her work at NASA
  • Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Katherine Johnson discusses the advent of computers and her work as a mathematician
  • Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Katherine Johnson shares her greatest achievement
  • Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Katherine Johnson talks about the community of scientists at NASA
  • Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Katherine Johnson shares her thoughts about the unique of her work
  • Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Katherine Johnson shares her thoughts about current space travel
  • Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Katherine Johnson talks about honors and interactions with other space professionals
  • Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Katherine Johnson reflects on her career
  • Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Katherine Johnson talks about other at African Americans at NASA
  • Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Katherine Johnson talks about her daughters and her teaching philosophy
  • Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Katherine Johnson shares her hopes and concerns for the black community
  • Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Katherine Johnson talks about how she would like to be remembered
  • Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Katherine Johnson describes her photos