Katherine Johnson, NASA’s ‘human computer,’ celebrates 100th birthday


PORTSMOUTH, Va (WAVY) – Katherine Johnson, an African-American trailblazer in math and science technology who helped put a man in orbit turned 100 years old on Sunday.

The West Virginia native who now lives in Hampton is best known for her work with NASA in the early 1950s.

That’s where she made a name for herself in a time in which segregation was very prominent, and the civil rights movement was just beginning.

Johnson landed an opportunity to work in an all white male research team to calculate the trajectory of astronaut John Glen’s orbit around the earth. It was her calculations that would put the first man on the moon some years later.

She worked with NASA for the next three decades, receiving numerous awards and honors for her work with numbers.

For a long time her hard work and contribution to the United States’ NASA program had gone unheard, but in the past few years it’s been the opposite.

In 2015, Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from then President Barack Obama.

Just a year later her life and breakthrough work was adapted into the movie “Hidden Figures” starring A-list stars such as Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer.

RELATED: NASA names new research facility after Katherine Johnson

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RELATED: Local ‘Hidden Figure’ shares how she made her mark on NASA

This weekend her alma mater, West Virginia State University, honored her with a dedicated statue on campus and scholarship in her name.

Although she may not be crunching as many numbers today like she did 65 years ago, the strides she has made for women of color, and impacts to the world of science and technology, will live on forever.

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