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Katherine Johnson proved her promising intelligence early on, being moved up several grades beyond her peers, and graduated at the early age of just 13! She graduated West Virginia University with the high honors and went on to be a teacher. When the college integrated its graduate schools, Johnson was picked along with 2 other men to hold a spot at the school. However, after enrolling, she left to have her children.

Upon her return to work, Katherine Johnson took a job in the West Area Computing section at Langley where she worked with data from flight tests. However, after the launch of the Soviet Union satellite in 1957, Johnson took on an even larger roll! Math equations that she had created were used in the Notes on Space Technology lecture series. The lecturers later went on to form the space travel section in NACA.

Katherine Johnson did trajectory analysis for Mercury missions in 1961 as well as John Glenn’s orbital mission in 1962. Although computers planned Glenn’s orbital trajectory, he specifically requested that Johnson look through the equations to ensure the mission was safe.

She retired from her honorary work at NASA in 1986, and in 2015, received the highest civilian honor in the U.S., the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Citation: Smith, Yvette. “Katherine Johnson: The Girl Who Loved to Count.” NASA, NASA, 20 Nov. 2015,