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Biography of Katherine Johnson

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Published: Mon, 04 Sep 2017

This autobiography is focused on Katherine Johnson, the human computer and mathematician. Her triumphs were a part of the civil rights movement, as she was one of the few federally employed African Americans specifically by NASA. While continuously fighting for the betterment of her education and career, she was successful in helping put the first man into space. In fact, it was John Glenn himself who requrested Mr. Johnson’s confirmation of the BMI’s calculations before boarding Friendship 7. She was a necessity in the launch and landing of America’s first space shuttle, providing to millions of Americans that a black person was just as capable as any. She was also the first black women integrated into West Virginia University’s college. Her contributions to our country rewarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.

Katherine Johnson was born in our very own home state on August twenty-sixth in the early fall of nineteen eighteen. She was born and raised in White Sulphur Springs, Greenbrier County, West Virginia. Her mother and father were Joshua and Joylette Coleman. She wa the youngest of four siblings, and both of her parents worked; her mother was a teacher and her father worked at the Greenbrier Hotel. They both loved Katherine dearly and wanted to further her education once they realized the great potential that she had. Many African Americans her age did not go past the eighth grade. Quickly, her parents enrolled all four of their children into high school on the campus of West Virginia State College. Traveling back and forth one hundred and fifty miles to White Sulphur Springs and Institute gave Katherine the opportunity to dream big just at the age of ten.

Once Katherine graduated high school, she applied and was accepted into West Virginia State College which may also be known as West Virginia State University today. During her childhood she loved numbers, growing up she loved numbers, and as she aged she grew into a mathematician. While attending college, Katherine took advantage of every opportunity given to her. Many of Katherine’s professors recognized her determination as she took every math course available. A woman named W.W. Schiefflin Claytor even went to lengths to create her new math courses.

At the age of eighteen, Katherine graduated college and accepted a teaching position at an African American public school in Virginia. Shortly after graduation, she met her first husband, James Goble, and married him in year of nineteen thirty-nine. Being the first African American in history to desegregate West Virginia University, Katherine enrolled into the graduate program. After one session, she decided to quit and start a family. Luckily at a family gathering, thirteen years later in nineteen fifty-two, a relative mentioned that the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics was hiring mathematicians. The next year, she was offered a job which she accepted and became a part of NASA.

Until nineteen fifty-eight, Katherine worked as a computer analyzing topics such as gust alleviation for aircraft. She was then assigned to help the male flight research team temporarily. Blowing away her bosses and colleagues with analytic geometry proved her position there, so she stayed. Taking on racial and gender discrimination was hard for Katherine; however, she persevered by ignoring them and sticking to her work.

Throughout her career, she worked as an aerospace technologist, and was promoted to the Spacecraft Control Branch. She contributed and took place in major historical events and accomplishments for America such as John Glenn’s orbit around Earth, the Mercury mission, and putting the first man into space! She was expected to calculated trajectories, launch windows, and to plot navigational plots for astronauts in case of electronic failures. John Glenn specifically asked officials to have Katherine verify the calculations made by the computer, stating that he refused to fly otherwise. Her work ensured Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 Mercury capsule would be found after it had landed. Her trajectories were required for the nineteen sixty-nine Apollo 11 flight to the moon. She helped creating a one-star observation system that would allow astronauts to determine their location with accuracy; After all, her concern was “getting them (astronauts) back.” Since there, she has worked on the Space Shuttle program, the Earth Resources Satellite, and on plans for a mission to Mars. West Virginia University presented her with a Presidential Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters for attaining national and international preeminence in the field of astrophysics and providing distinguished leadership and service in her field while the former President of the United States awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom.


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