Mrs. Katherine Johnson‒Human calculator who helped put men on the moon

Posted: News,   : 2020-02-25 10:00:49 am
By: : Jean Claude NDAYISHIMIYE

Scientists around the world are commemorating mathematician Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson (Mrs. Katherine Johnson), who died at the age of 101 on 24th February, 2020. Mrs. Johnson was hired as a “human computer in 1953” at NACA officially turned over operations to NASA on 1st October, 1958. By hand, Mrs. Johnson calculated rocket trajectories for NASA’s early missions and checked the math for the launches that sent the first American into orbit and put the first men on the moon. Johnson’s achievements receive mainstream attention when 44th President of the United States (Barack Hussein Obama II) recognized her contributions in 2015 with the Presidential Medal of Freedom (America’s highest civilian honor). In 2017, NASA dedicated a building in her honor, the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility, at its Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va and Washington Post described her as “the most high-profile of the computers”–“computers” being the term originally used to designate Mrs. Johnson and her colleagues, much as “typewriters” was utilized in the 19th Century to denote professional typists. Mrs. Johnson was one of a group of brilliant African-American women mathematicians at NASA and its predecessor who were celebrated in the 2016 movie “Hidden Figures” highlighted her pioneering work. NASA Administrator James Bridenstine said, “Our NASA family is sad to learn the news that Katherine Johnson passed away this morning at 101 years old. She was an American hero and her pioneering legacy will never be forgotten.”

Johnson at her desk at Langley in an undated photo (Credit: NASA)

Johnson calculated the trajectory for the first US manned orbital space flight (Credit: NASA)


Katherine Johnson Biography

  • Born: Aug. 26, 1918
  • Died: Feb. 24, 2020
  • Hometown: White Sulphur Springs, WV
  • Education: B.Sc., Mathematics and French, West Virginia State College, 1937
  • Hired by NACA: June 1953
  • Retired from NASA: 1986
  • Actress Playing Role in Hidden Figures: Taraji P. Henson
  • Earned a reputation for mastering complex manual calculations and helped pioneer the use of computers to perform the tasks
  • NASA 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 (the first American in space) and John Glenn (the first American in orbit), and rendez-vous 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 and plans for a mission to Mars
  • Authored or coauthored 26 research reports
  • Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom
  • Listed among BBC’s list of 100 influential women worldwide
  • Awarded the Congressional Gold Medal
  • Awarded NASA Langley Research Center Special Achievement
  • Received honorary degree from the University of Johannesburg, South Africa



Sarah, L. 2020. Katherine Johnson Biography. In NASA. Retrieved February 25, 2020 

Wikipedia contributors. 2019. Katherine Johnson. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved February 25, 2020.


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