Who is Katherine Johnson?
“Some things will drop out of the public eye and will go away… There will always be science, engineering and technology. And there will always, always be mathematics.”
Katherine Johnson was an American mathematician whose three decade tenure at NASA was instrumental in ensuring the success of several spaceflights. At NASA’s West Area Computing unit, she and many other African American women worked as a “computer”, performing complex manual calculations on space mission launch windows, trajectories and emergency return paths. Johnson’s most notable work includes computations critical to the Freedom 7 mission, putting the first American in space, the Friendship 7 mission, allowing the first American astronaut to orbit Earth, and Apollo 11, sending the first three men to the Moon. She also became the first woman in her division to receive credit for authoring a research paper. She went on to co-author 26 scientific papers during her career, as well as pioneered the use of computers to complete mathematical calculations.
Johnson’s influence in space science garnered her several awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian honor, which was awarded to her by President Barack Obama in 2015. The Hidden Gems conference honors her achievements in the STEM field.