About Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson

Katherine had a great passion for numbers  since she was a child numbers, an immense curiosity and eagerness to learn. All this resulted  in that with just ten years, she was already in high school. However, she could not study in her city White Sulfur Springs, because there was only one school for white people where no they did not admitted black people.

Her father made the decision to sell his land, find two jobs and move the whole family 209 kilometres further, trying their luck in another county. His dreamed was that each and everyone of his children could study. He always told them: “No one is better than you and you are not better than anyone ”. He was determinate for his children to have the same opportunities like everyonelse.

Katherine took advantage of every learning opportunity and entered the State University from West Virginia, where she graduated in  Mathematics and French with top honors in 1937. She also accepted a job as a teacher in a public school for blacks. She wanted to work as a mathematical researcher. However, at that time not only there was segregation, but also women had very little rights. And that reflected as well on when women wanted to choose a profession, since the options were more limited.

In 1952 a new opportunity arose; Katherine learned from a relative that were they were hiring at the computer section of the west wing (where the African Americans worked) at NACA Langley Laboratory – Nasa’s predecessor – so she and her husband decided to move to Hampton, in Virginia.

At that time there were no computers as we know them today. They were white and black women (segregated) who did the calculations by hand. They say that in that time doing the calculations was boring work for men and it was a very precise job. That’s why at NACA felt that women were better cut out to do this job. These women were called computers with skirts. Initially they calculated the trajectory of the airplanes. And when the NACA transformed in the NASA they did the the calculations of the first space launches.

Katherine didn’t pay much attention to segregation at her work. For her the most important was to find the solution and therefore focused on the mission. Although she did experience several racist encounters. Such as when she started working in the department where only the white people were one of her colleagues demanded for Katherine to use a different coffee maker. Katherine was a very determined woman and did not just do calculations but insisted on attending to meetings with engineers, something unprecedented for a African American woman or man. Her incredible ability to the calculation, her perseverance, her focus and passion for the work helped to establish the trajectory of the first American trip to space to put the Apollo XI into orbit and took the man to the Moon for the first time.

For the mission in which John Glen orbited the Earth for the first time (1962) the calculations were done by the first computers. However, they still asked Katherine to verify calculations the machine had made. “If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go,” said the astronaut, as Johnson remembers. In fact, NASA recognizes on its website that “they couldn have done those things without Katherine Johnson and her love for mathematics. “

Katherine always wanted to fly to the moon herself and hopefully that’s what she’s exactly doing at this moment. Katherine Johnson became 101 years a beautiful age for a an exceptional human being and an important black rolemodel, who just loved to count.