The Legacy of Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson’s life was a testament to resilience, intelligence, and pioneering spirit. From her early days in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, her brilliance with numbers set her apart. She excelled academically, graduating with highest honors and becoming one of the first black students to integrate West Virginia’s graduate schools. She received her college degree in Math and French at age 18.

White and Black children sit together at the table and count on the abacus and smiles. Math lesson in elementary schoolDespite facing challenges, including starting a family and the loss of her husband, Johnson’s passion for mathematics persisted. Her pivotal role at NASA’s Langley laboratory, where she played a crucial part in trajectory analysis for historic missions like Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7, showcased her exceptional talents, originally starting as a ‘computer’.

Johnson worked in the West Area Computing Unit at NASA which was comprised of African American women who carried out intricate mathematical calculations manually for the program’s engineers. These women, referred to as the West Computers, meticulously analyzed test data and delivered crucial mathematical computations vital to the triumph of the early U.S. space program and many would later transcend to be the programmers of the automated computers. It was noted that John Glenn, as part of his pre-flight routine and checklist, demanded that Johnson be the one to rerun the automated calculations manually and “if she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go.”

Johnson’s legacy extended far beyond her time at NASA. Her contributions to space exploration, including synching Project Apollo’s Lunar Module and working on the Space Shuttle program, earned her widespread acclaim. But perhaps her greatest achievement was inspiring future generations of women in STEM fields, breaking barriers and paving the way for others to follow.

As we honor Katherine Johnson’s remarkable life and accomplishments, we recognize the profound impact she had on the fields of science, mathematics, and accounting. Her pioneering spirit continues to inspire and empower women to pursue their dreams and make their mark on the world. Throughout Women’s History Month, we aim to showcase the varied science (agronomy) and mathematics (accounting) positions available within the company in hopes of inspiring others to reach for the stars in their careers and mentor others in the industry.

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