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Hidden Figure: Katherine Johnson

November 2016

Full Name: Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson
August 26, 1918
Birthplace: White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia.
Education: Bachelor of Science degree in Mathematics and French from West Virginia State University in 1932. In 1940, she attended West Virginia University to obtain a graduate degree making her the first African American to enroll in the mathematics program.
Center: Langley Memorial Research Center
Work Dates: 1953-1986
West Computers; Flight Research Division, Spacecraft Controls Branch
Specialty: Calculating the trajectories for space shots which determined the timing for launches, including the Mercury mission and Apollo 11, the mission to the moon.

Excerpted from "Hidden Figures: The Untold Story That’s Long Overdue" on

Hidden Figures at SpelmanAfter 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; and 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.

In 2015, President Barack Obama gave the nation’s highest civilian honor to Johnson.

And in 2016, had a NASA building named after her, called the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Ironically, it’s the same building where she was originally considered “too black” and “too female” to work in, was named in her honor.

Johnson is the only living member of the three woman. By the time she retired in 1986, her computations influenced every major space program from Mercury through the Shuttle. Her story on will inspire you.

Read More About Hidden Figures and Spelman's Math Majors on the Move

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