Katerine Johnson

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Last updated 3 years ago

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Social Studies
Explorers and Discovers

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Katerine Johnson

"Hidden Figures" focuses on her work on the 1962 Friendship 7 mission, which would make John Glenn the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth. NASA had started using computers by that point, but the machines were prone to glitches. Worried about his safety, Glenn reportedly asked for “the girl”— Johnson — to check the computers’ orbital equations before his flight.

In September 2016, Margot Lee Shetterly released her book "Hidden Figures," which was later adapted as a film. The story chronicles the histories of the many African-American women who helped the United States launch ahead in the space race, the period during the Cold War when the United States and the Soviet Union competed to develop technologies for space exploration.

Katherine Johnson was one of the “human computers” hired to perform vital and complex calculations for NASA’s early space flights. She was virtually unknown to the public for most of her life. Then last year, that all changed.

African-American in NASA's success, so building has her name

An extraordinarily skilled mathematician, Johnson worked for NASA between 1953, when the agency was known as the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics or NACA, and 1986. Johnson’s NASA biography explains that NACA had taken the “unusual” step of hiring women to perform challenging and complex calculations for wind tunnel tests in the 1930s and later expanded its efforts to include African-American women.


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