This Month's Woman of HISTORICAL Significance
Katherine Johnson (born August 26, 1918) is an African-American physicist, space scientist, and mathematician who contributed to America's aeronautics and space programs with the early application of digital electronic computers at NASA. Her courage and perseverance helped to lead the way for both women and African-Americans in technical fields.
At NASA, Johnson started work in the all-male Flight Mechanics Branch and later moved to the Spacecraft Controls Branch. She calculated the trajectory for the space flight of Alan Shepard, the first American in space, in 1959 and the launch window for his 1961 Mercury mission. She plotted backup navigational charts for astronauts in case of electronic failures. In 1962, when NASA used computers for the first time to calculate John Glenn's orbit around Earth, officials called on her to verify the computer's numbers. Ms. Johnson later worked directly with real computers. Her ability and reputation for accuracy helped to establish confidence in the new technology. She calculated the trajectory for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon. Later in her career, she worked on the Space Shuttle program, the Earth Resources Satellite, and on plans for a mission to Mars.