Katherine Johnson (04:07)
Johnson grew-up on a farm, had a habit of counting everything, and was academically gifted; she attended West Virginia Colored Institute. Johnson and her family worked part time at the Greenbrier Resort; Johnson was a presser.
Education and Early Career (05:09)
Johnson completed high school at the age of 14 and earned two college degrees by age 18; Dr. William Claytor pushed her toward a research mathematician career. Johnson became a teacher in Morgantown and secretly married James Goble.
Grad Program and Family Life (02:53)
Johnson enrolled in a Master's program at West Virginia University and became pregnant; she and Goble had three daughters. Johnson returned to teaching when societal expectations changed; the family spent summers in White Sulphur Springs.
"West Computers" (05:46)
In 1952, Johnson applied for a job with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics; women processed raw mathematical data. Racial segregation occurred in nearly all aspects of life. African American women worked in the West Area Computing Office.
NACA Career (04:11)
Johnson joined the West Computer Group in 1953 and was assigned to the flight research division. Goble died of cancer in 1956 and Johnson married Lt. Col. James A. Johnson in 1959.
Space Race (06:02)
The Soviets launched Sputnik I in 1957; NASA announced the Mercury Seven. Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space and the U.S. launched Freedom 7 three weeks later. Johnson, the only female minority on the Space Task Force, calculated the trajectory.
Career Acceleration at NASA (05:55)
Reporter James Hicks marked Johnson's importance to space flight. Johnson attended briefings and met with engineers. NASA's transition to computer calculations made some experts uneasy; John Glenn wanted Johnson to double-check the numbers.
Friendship 7 Mission (02:51)
On February 20, 1962, Glenn became the first American to orbit Earth. It took Johnson six months to make orbital calculations and two days to double check the computer's numbers; the black press celebrated her contribution.
NASA Research Papers (03:40)
"The Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite Over a Selected Earth Position" was the first space division paper accredited to a female. Johnson co-authored 26 technical papers.
Lunar Landing (04:07)
President Kennedy challenged the nation to put a man on the moon. Apollo 11 left Earth on July 16, 1969 and landed on the moon four days later. Johnson's work was integral to the Apollo Program.
Apollo 13 (03:53)
NASA aborted the lunar landing when an explosion crippled the spacecraft 200,000 miles from Earth. Johnson's reports helped bring the astronauts safely home.
Johnson's Legacy (04:38)
Johnson contributed to the Space Shuttle Program and Earth Resources Satellite. She worked at NASA for 33 years and received several awards. NASA named a computational research facility in her honor and Hollywood made a film based on her experiences.
Credits: Outlier: The Story of Katherine Johnson (01:08)
Credits: Outlier: The Story of Katherine Johnson
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