Katherine Johnson

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Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson was born on August 26, 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, WV. She was an American mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed spaceflights. During her 35-year career at NACA/NASA Langley Research Center, she earned a reputation for mastering complex manual calculations and helped pioneer the use of computers to perform the tasks. NASA has noted her "historical role as one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist".

Johnson's work included calculating trajectories, launch windows and emergency return paths for Project Mercury spaceflights, including those for astronauts Alan Shepard and John Glenn, and rendezvous paths for the Apollo Lunar Module and command module on flights to the Moon. Her calculations were also essential to the beginning of the Space Shuttle program. Following her retirement from NASA in 1986, she enjoyed traveling, playing card games, and spending time with her family and friends. She also liked to talk to students about school. She encouraged students to keep studying and to work hard. She told them to learn more about math and science and to never give up on their dreams. In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2016, she was portrayed by Taraji P. Henson as a lead character in the film Hidden Figures. In 2017, NASA Langley Research Center named it's new Computational Research Facility in her honor. And in 2019, Johnson was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. She passed away in her home in Newport News, VA at the age of 101 on February 24, 2020.


[top] Notable Calculations

1959 - Trajectory for Alan Shepard‘s flight

Back-up navigation charts for astronauts

1962 – Verified calculations made for the 1st time by electronic computer for John Glenn’s orbit

1969 – Apollo 11 trajectory to the Moon

[top] Technical Reports

Co-authored 26 scientific papers, some of which include:

NASA TN D-233, The Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite over a Selected Earth Position 1960. T.H. Skopinski, Katherine G. Johnson.

NASA TN D-1366, The Orbital Behavior of the Echo 1 Satellite and its Rocket Casing During the First 500 Days 1962. Gertrude C. Westrick, Katherine G. Johnson.

NASA TN D-6752, Simplified Interplanetary Guidance Procedures Using Onboard Optical Measurements 1972. Harold A. Hamer, Katherine G. Johnson.

NASA TP-1758, Pseudosteady-State Analysis of Nonlinear Aircraft Maneuvers 1980. John W. Young, Albert A. Schy, Katherine G. Johnson.

NASA TP-2484, Decoupled and Linear Quadratic Regulator Control of a Large, Flexible Space Antenna With an Observer in the Control Loop 1985. Harold A. Hamer, Katherine G. Johnson, and John W. Young.

NASA TP-2604, Effects of Model Error on Control of Large Flexible Space Antenne with Comparisions of Decoupled and Linear Quadratic Regulator Control Procedures 1986. Harold A. Hamer, Katherine G. Johnson.

For more reports, search for K. Johnson on http://ntrs.nasa.gov

[top] Videos

Visionary Project: The National Visionary Leadership Project (NVLP) is the premier resource for oral history interviews with African American elders who shaped the 20th century.

Excellent Biography

Working at NASA

Becoming a NASA Mathematician

America’s First Space Flight

Makers Profile: NASA Mathematician

NASA Mathematician, Recipient of Nations Highest Civilian Honor

[top] Photos

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