A hidden figure no more.
Katherine Johnson (1918–2020) was among those who played a key role in John Glenn’s mission to become the first American to orbit the earth. Her calculations of orbital mechanics, as a NASA employee, were critical to Glenn’s mission and the subsequent U.S. crewed spaceflights.
Johnson’s 35-year career at NASA earned her a reputation for mastery of complex manual calculations. She pioneered the use of computers to aid these tasks. Johnson refused to be impeded by racial and gender barriers. Her knowledge and work in analytical geometry made her hard to ignore. Johnson was assertive and in her own words, ‘aggressive — and the degree to which we had to be that way depended on where you were.’
No woman in her division had her name on a report until she pushed to have her name included for her work. Her ability and reputation for accuracy helped to establish confidence in the new technology. Her contributions and social influence as a pioneer in space science and computing are demonstrated by the awards she received and in her status as a role model for a life in science. Johnson’s legacy will forever serve as an inspiration for girls interested in careers in STEM.