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Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson in 1966Katherine Johnson in 1966Katherine Johnson (1918–2020) was an African American mathematician who worked for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). She performed the accurate calculations and analysed the data needed for space flights, which today would be done by computers. Katherine also played a crucial role in many important moments at the start of space exploration. These included mission Freedom 7 in 1961, the first American manned space flight, and Apollo 11 in 1969, the first time man walked on the Moon. In 2015, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in recognition for her role as a pioneering African American woman in science. She died at the age of 101 in February 2020.

White Sulphur Springs, where Katherine was bornWhite Sulphur Springs, where Katherine was born

Early life

Katherine Johnson (then Coleman) was born on the 26th August 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, Greenbrier County, West Virginia, the youngest of four children. Already brilliant at maths, Katherine was admitted to High School at West Virginia State College, which offered schooling to African American students, at the age of 10. Katherine graduated four years early, aged 14. She was then admitted to West Virginia State College itself, where she took every maths course offered, including new ones that were added for her by one of her mentors, Professor Claytor. She graduated in 1937 with degrees in both Mathematics and French, aged just 18—once again, four years early.

Before the development of electronic computers, the word "computer" meant a person, not a machine. At NACA, Katherine Johnson and her colleagues were referred to as the "computer pool".

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