Katherine Johnson Photo

Katherine Johnson

2015 NCWIT Pioneer Award Winner

Background

As a NASA mathematician, Katherine Johnson’s calculations include the trajectory for the space flight of Alan Shepard, the first American in space; John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth; and Apollo 11, the first human mission to the moon. Born in 1918, Katherine displayed an early love for numbers: “They tell me I counted everything,” said Katherine. She began her studies at West Virginia State University at the age of 15, where distinguished Dr. William W. Schiefflin Claytor recognized her impressive aptitude and encouraged her to take the necessary courses that would lead to a career as a research mathematician. Katherine would go on to earn her graduate degree. In 1953, she began working as a research mathematician at the Langley Research Center with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the agency that became NASA. Katherine’s computations impacted the history of U.S. space exploration.