Katherine Johnson

Pioneering NASA researcher and mathematician

At a time when mission-critical mathematical computations were worked on by humans rather than computers, Katherine Johnson computed the trajectory for the first American Astronaut to be in space, Alan Shepard, in 1961.

Learn more about Katherine Johnson:


Katherine entered into high school at the age of ten. Katherine enrolled in college when she was 15 years old. She attendedĀ a historically black university in West Virginia to study mathematics. She learnt how to use math, particularly geometry, to solve complex problems. She graduated from college at the age of eighteen. She joined NASA at the age of 35, years into starting her family. She was hired as a human computer, someone who does computations the same way computers do so today. From there she was invited to design and planning meetings that allowed her to practice her math skills in harder contexts that afforded her an undisputable reputation at NASA.

Contribution to Society

Katherine researched the application of geometry in space travel. She calculated the trajectories that the spaceship would take to orbit (circulate) Earth and arrive on the Moon. Katherine's math was utilized by NASA, and it worked! NASA sent people into Earth's orbit. Her math later assisted in the launch of humans to the Moon and back. Katherine Johnson and her passion for math would not have been able to accomplish these feats if it weren't for her!


  • NASA Biography

    A very friendly introduction to Katherine Johnson's life, as written by the organization she was a vital part of developing.

  • NPR Obituary Article

    This article focuses on the racial component of Katherine Johnson's identity and the way it affected the obstacles she had to overcome and the erasure that ensued on the part of larger society's reluctant acceptance of her brilliance.

  • Scientific Women Article on Ms.Johnson

    Besides breaking racial barriers in the scientific field during her time, Ms. Johnson also broke barriers in the gender norms dominating society. Often, she found herself being the only female in the room during important mission-critical meetings at NASA.