Johnson, who was born in White Sulphur Springs West Virginia in 1918 was a mathematician by profession, but she was also a number-lover. Smart and fascinated by math, Johnson graduated high school at the age 10 of her life.
Katherine Johnson (left) is seen with President Barack Obama after he presented her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in Washington on Tuesday, 24th November 2015.
Joshua, her father, wanted to give his bright, little girl a chance at reaching her full potential. He drove her 120 miles away to Institute, West Virginia. There, she was able continue her studies through high-school. Katherine Johnson proved that her father’s choice was right when she graduated college and high school at the age of 18. She also skipped through grades, graduating from highschool at the age of 14 after years spent as a homemaker. In 1935, NACA hired women for the difficult and exact job of measuring and calculating results from wind tunnel tests. The NACA hired women to work as “computers” in 1935, before the advent of electronic computers. During World War II they expanded their efforts to include African American woman. The NACA’s results were so good that unlike other organizations they retained the women in their jobs after the war. Katherine Johnson used her incredible mathematical skills as a computer to calculate Alan Shepard’s trajectory, the first American man in space. John Glenn asked Katherine Johnson to personally check the calculations of the electronic computers even after NASA started using them. This was the mission that saw him become the first American in orbiting the Earth. She worked at NASA from 1986 until she retired, combining her math skills with computer knowledge. Her calculations played a crucial role in the success of NASA’s Apollo Moon landing and Space Shuttle programs.
Katherine Johnson is the recipient of many honors, including honorary doctorates and NASA’s Lunar Orbiter Spacecraft and Operations Award (for pioneering navigation work supporting five spacecraft orbiting and mapping the moon to prepare for the Apollo program). The President Barack H. Obama is set to award her the nation’s most prestigious civilian award on Tuesday, 24 November 2015.