Mathematician Katherine Johnson used her exceptional calculation skills to assess the flight paths of spacecrafts for NASA.
Prior to her work in the space industry, Johnson was one of the first three African American students to be accepted into the graduate program at West Virginia University in 1939. Soon after, she got married and started a family, putting her mathematics career on hold.
In 1953, Johnson began working for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which was still segregated at the time.
Her work analyzing flight tests led to her joining the Space Task Group for what would become NASA later that year. She did trajectory analysis for the first human spaceflight and ran calculations personally for John Glenn’s orbital mission.
During her 33-year career, she was the first woman in her division to receive credit for a research report, and she went on to author or co-author 26 research papers.
Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from then-president Barack Obama in 2015.