I felt most proud of the success of the Apollo mission. They were going to the moon and I computed the path to get there.
Our latest #techspiration is Katherine Johnson, a pioneering NASA mathematician whose work in orbital mechanics was pivotal in the first American space projects. Her work included route planning for the first moon landing of Apollo 11 in 1969.
- Born on 26th August 1918 in West Virginia USA, Katherine will be 101 this year
- Johnson was well ahead in her education, graduating high school at 14 and then taking every math class at West Virginia State University
- In 1939, she was selected to be integrated into graduate school at the university, a first for both a woman and an African-American
- In 1953, Johnson was hired as a mathematician by NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics), a governmental organisation that preceded NASA. At the time the female mathematicians were shockingly referred to as ‘computers with skirts’
- In 1958, Johnson was reassigned to the Guidance and Control Division of Langley's Flight Research Division, which at the time only contained white males. She worked as an aerospace technologist, calculating all sorts of crucial sums such as the flight paths and trajectories of missions such as Freedom 7, the first American in space and the Apollo 11 moon landing
- Towards the end of her career, Johnson worked on the Space Shuttle program. The NASA Space Shuttle lasted until 2011
- In November 2015, President Barack Obama presented Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest medal for a civilian
- In 2016, biographical drama film ‘Hidden Figures’ was produced, based on the non-fiction book about African-American women working for NASA in the 50s. The film went on to be a huge success with three Oscar nominations and two Golden Globe nominations.
What makes her great?
Johnson was a pioneer and a huge inspirator of women and African-Americans in the workplace. She was quoted as saying “I asked questions; I wanted to know why. They got used to me asking questions and being the only woman there”.
Her determination and focus ensured that she was renowned as a mathematician worldwide and her work paved the way for safety and backup plans with space missions.
Why she’s a ‘techspiration’ to Claritas
Katherine Johnson is a massive inspiration for us because of her determination in breaking the boundaries with computer science. Her success at NASA proves that the brain is the most important aspect of an employee, and that intelligence holds no creed or gender.
Our favourite quote
You will do better if you cause other people to want to learn.