Katherine Johnson: Among the Stars

Known for her work in trajectory and flight analysis for NASA, Katherine Johnson’s story was made mainstream in the movie Hidden Figures. Johnson made immense strides for not only space travel, but additionally racial integration as an African-American woman in the 50s.

Born Aug. 26, 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, WV, Johnson died on Feb. 24, 2020 in Newport News, VA from natural causes in her retirement home at the age of 101. 

A member of NACA (now NASA)’s Space Task Group, Johnson was tasked with trajectory analysis for Mission Freedom 7 in 1961; the U.S.’s first manned spaceflight. Shortly after, Johnson and fellow engineer Ted Skopinski co-wrote, “Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite Over a Selected Earth Position”, which detailed the equations in which the landing position of an orbital spacecraft is specified.

Chosen as one of three black women to integrate West Virginia’s graduate schools, Johnson was a gifted child early in life, attending the local high school for classes at just 13 years old. She graduated from West Virginia State with a Ph.D. in mathematics with the highest honors; the third African-American to do so.

Johnson was married to and raised her three daughters with James Goble from 1939 to 1956, until he passed away from cancer. In 1959, she remarried Jim Johnson and remained married until his death in 2019.

In 2015, Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from former President Barack Obama for her work in space and flight, and NASA recognized her “historical role as one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist.” 

Multiple facilities at NASA have also been established in Johnson’s name, and in 2016 during the dedication of the “Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility”, she was also awarded NASA’s coveted Silver Snoopy award for her “outstanding contributions to flight safety and mission success.”

Johnson is survived by two of her daughters Katherine and Joylette Goble, her six grandchildren, and her 11 great-grandchildren.

Johnson’s memorial service was held on Mar. 7, at Hampton University Convocation Center in Hampton, VA.

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