Among the first women to work in mathematics at NASA, Katherine Johnson gained notoriety in the United States. There is no doubt that her work in mathematics and space exploration has been crucial to the success of space missions and interplanetary communications.
We at Twinkl are cognizant of the difficulty one may experience when attempting to locate all the information one requires in one convenient location. It can be just as challenging to find engaging materials to use as you teach about this topic.
Educators, homeschoolers, and parents can find everything they need to know about Katherine Johnson right here on this teaching wiki. Help your young students learn about Katherine Johnson’s life and NASA career with this collection of facts.
1. Johnson’s Institution Stopped Teaching Students After Eighth Grade
Even as a young child, Johnson exhibited remarkable mathematical prowess. Greenbrier County, West Virginia, did not have a public high school for African-American students beyond the eighth grade, so her family sent her to the Institute High School on the campus of West Virginia State University (WVSC).
2. Johnson Started Her Junior Year of High School at The Tender Age of 10
After finishing high school at age 14, she enrolled at West Virginia State University, where she completed every math prerequisite. She completed her degree in 1937, receiving the highest possible grade, and immediately entered the teaching profession.
3. She Decided to Join NASA After Being Nudged in That Direction by A Member of Her Family
Johnson was one of only three African-American students and the first African-American woman admitted to West Virginia University’s graduate school in 1939. After delaying her education to start a family, she eventually went back to teaching once her daughters were old enough.
A family member didn’t tell Johnson that NASA was looking for mathematicians until 1952, at a family gathering. In June 1953, the agency offered her a job, and she took it.
4. The Space Shuttle Has Successfully Launched Thanks to Johnson’s Efforts
Trajectories, launch windows, and emergency return paths for Project Mercury spaceflights were all calculated by Johnson. This included the missions of Alan Shepard and John Glenn, the first Americans in space and orbit, respectively.
Johnson also calculated rendezvous paths for the Apollo lunar and command modules during their Moon missions. Her numbers were also crucial in getting the Space Shuttle project off the ground. Johnson even helped develop strategies for a Mars expedition.
5. She Was Given the Snoopy Award!
When Obama left office in 2015, he presented Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Both the NASA Group Achievement Award and the Silver Snoopy Award were presented to her in 2016 by astronaut Leland D. Melvin. The 2019 year of her Congressional Gold Medal.
6. Katherine Johnson Was Instrumental in Sending the First Humans to The Moon
Soon after John Glenn’s historic flight, President John F. Kennedy gave NASA the green light to begin planning for an even more audacious mission: sending a manned shuttle to the moon.
Even more, calculations were needed for this trip, and Johnson played a key role once again. She collaborated with NASA’s engineering staff to establish a launch window and location that would put astronauts on a path to the moon.
The Apollo moon landing program was a huge success and one of the most well-known moments in space exploration.
7. Dr. Katherine Johnson’s Academic Career Culminated in That Achievement
More than seventy-five years after she abandoned her graduate studies, Johnson was awarded a doctorate honoris causa by West Virginia University.
The university claims that Johnson is deserving of the award because of her “national and international preeminence in the field of astrophysics and distinguished leadership and service” to the community.
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8. The Team Power
In 1940, Katherine Johnson was among the 2% of African American women with college degrees; of those women, 60% were teachers in schools serving only black students.
She started working with the West Computing Group at Langley Research Center, where she witnessed the efficacy of teamwork firsthand as the women in the group double- and triple-checked each other’s output to guarantee that no mistakes made it out the door. As they crunched numbers for space missions and aviation research, they helped each other out and made progress as a group.