Katherine Johnson

Katherine’s Work

"I certainly never expected any glory. I was just doing the job I was hired to do. … I was always proud of my work, but for Pete’s sake, I didn’t do anything alone.”

Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson wanted to be a research mathematician from the time she was 18 years old. When she finally got her chance, she did not let the world down. She and the other women in this role, referred to as “West Computers,” were responsible for the tedious mathematical calculations needed to send the first Americans into space.

Highlights Throughout Katherine Johnson’s Career


Katherine Johnson began working at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and spent her first years analyzing data from flight tests and investigating a plane crash caused by wake turbulence.

Flight Research Division

In the wake of the Soviet satellite, Sputnik, Katherine provided some of the math for the report Notes on Space Technologies. This document was a collection of lectures given by engineers who, along with Katherine Johnson, would make up the core of the Space Task Force, NACA’s first official foray into space travel.


Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act of 1958, which formed the new space agency NASA. NACA officially turned over its operations later that same year.

Math Report Notes on Space Technologies

Katherine Johnson coauthored a report, Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite Over a Selected Earth Position. It was the first time a woman in the Flight Research Division had received credit as an author of a research report.

Alan Shepard

Katherine calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American in space, entirely by hand. His safe return also depended on Katherine’s calculations, as recovery crews relied on her calculations to find Shepard’s capsule in the North Atlantic.

John Glenn

Even after NASA began using electronic computers, John Glenn needed reassurance that the IBM 7090 computer was correct and requested that “the girl” (he did not refer to Katherine by her name) personally recheck the calculations before his flight aboard Friendship 7 – the mission on which he became the first American to orbit the Earth.

Apollo Moon Landing Program

Katherine Johnson’s calculations proved critical to the success of the Apollo Moon landing program. She watched the moon landing surrounded by her sorority sisters of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. TM at a leadership retreat, confident in her calculations but still nervous of the potential catastrophes. Watching the moon landing on television filled her with great pride in the work of her team and in the country’s progress during the Space Race.

Space Station

Katherine Johnson continued to work at NASA until August 1986, combining her math talent with electronic computer skills. She assisted with five more Apollo flights that also made it to the moon, coauthored more reports, including one that calculated flight trajectories to Mars, and worked for nearly 15 years on developing NASA’s first space station.


After she retired, Katherine continued working with students and spoke at schools about the importance of math and education. She also continued work on community enrichment programs through Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. TM and the National Technical Association.

Want to read more about Katherine Johnson?

Browse resources to find books by Katherine Johnson, teaching resources, and student FAQs.

Credit: Hugh Talman, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution.


For her contributions to modern science, Katherine Johnson has won numerous accolades and awards.


Lunar Spacecraft and Operation’s Group Achievement Award, NASA

NASA’s Apollo Group Achievement Award, NASA

Presidential Medal of Freedom

President Barack H. Obama presented Katherine Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, on November 24, 2015, during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

In 2013, NASA named its new 37,000-square-foot data center at Langley after Katherine Johnson.

Katherine Johnson Independent Verification & Validation, Farimont, WV.

Buildings Named for Katherine Johnson


Katherine G Johnson Computational Research Facility, Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA

Katherine G Johnson Independent Verification & Validation (IV&V) Facility, Fairmont, WV


Katherine G Johnson Hall, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA

Public Schools:

Katherine G. Johnson S.T.E.M. Institute at Alpha Academy, Fayetteville, NC

Katherine G Johnson STEM Academy, Los Angeles, CA

Katherine G Johnson Elementary School, Newport News, VA

Katherine G Johnson Elementary School-Bethel School District, Pierce County, WA

Katherine G Johnson Technology Magnet Academy, DeSoto, TX

Katherine Johnson Middle School, Fairfax VA


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