The former NASA aerospace pioneer Katherine Johnson, at 101, passed away on February 24th, 2020 and was best known for her mathematical computations leading to the success of the first manned space mission to the moon. She was the main inspiration behind the book and film, “Hidden Figures”.
Born in West Virginia in 1918, Johnson grew up when being black and a woman, limited career opportunities severely. But gifted in mathematics, Johnson attended a school where she excelled and that changed the course of her life. After graduating from college, she became a teacher and went on to break barriers, working in the male-dominated aerospace industry and became known as the “human computer” enabling her to play a crucial role in several NASA missions, with contributions to aerospace research.
At 97, America’s highest civilian honour, the Presidential Medal of Freedom was awarded to her. Johnson encountered obstacles with racism and sexism in her career, but she persevered and used her talents to create her legacy of Resilience.
She discovered skills as an Aerospace Mathematician
Johnson’s dad only had a 6th-grade education, but was great with numbers. When young Katherine’s talent in maths was discovered, she had no idea about using it for a career. People like her college maths teachers, encouraged her to work in aerospace. She had no idea about being a research mathematician but that is the career she pursued.
Confident in her Abilities
Johnson was a mathematician, researcher and teacher,. She was a math genius who did not hide her gift and obviously, educators took note. In school, she skipped multiple grades, graduating from high school at only 14 and then college at 18. When she found and shared maths solutions, she was trusted and respected for her mathematical abilities.
Her Race or Gender never held her back from Opportunities
She was determined to work at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA), Langley laboratory, and in June 1953, she landed a job there working on airplanes and worked her way up. When the space program came, she desired to participate in internal briefings. When advised that girls never attended, she asked if there was any law against it. Since there wasn’t one, her boss let her attend. From then on, she attended these briefings and then worked on aerospace trajectories.
A Lifelong Learner
Johnson enjoyed solving intricate problems with opportunities to learn. Her approach to problem-solving was to learn how to attack them. If you attack the problem right, you get the right answer and you lose your curiosity when you stop learning. Her desire for learning, improving, and growing always propelled her forward.
She gave back to Society
Johnson was a STEM trailblazer who inspired many people like Jeanette Epps, who credit her for empowering them to become mathematicians, astronauts, and more. Having broken barriers, she encouraged youngsters to do the same.
Summing Up: An Amazing Life
Johnson was a family woman and STEM pioneer who lived an amazing life of challenges. Her existence reminds us of possibilities when women are confident, smart, courageous, teachable, and determined. Her amazing legacy is a beacon to women that no matter the times or obstacles faced, it was important to learn how to tackle them and move forward.