CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – One of West Virginia’s predominant figures, Katherine Johnson, will be awarded the Hubbard Medal, for her work in the field of mathematics and exploration, which were critical to the success and safety of several decades of pioneering U.S. spaceflights.
Johnson was born on August Aug. 26, 1918, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. As a child, she loved to count anything that could be quantified. By the time she was 10 years old, Johnson started high school and by 18, in 1937, she’d finished earning her B.S., Mathematics and French at West Virginia State College. She graduated with the highest honors in 1937 and took a job teaching at a black public school in Virginia. In 1939, she was among three selected to be the first black students at West Virginia University and enrolled in the graduate math program.
In 1953, John joined a group at the Langley Research Center in Virginia to perform complex calculations, most teams primarily relied on skilled people who were nimble-minded and facile with numbers. After two weeks of working at the research center, Johnson was transferred to the Flight Research Division, where she and her colleagues, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, were eventually tasked with helping NASA meet the challenge posed by the Soviets with the 1957 launch of the Sputnik 1 satellite, followed by the 1961 orbital flight of Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space.
In 1961, Johnson calculated and plotted the trajectory Alan Shepard’s space capsule would follow as it briefly left Earth.
The following year, Johnson calculated and plotted the path astronaut John Glenn would take when he showed a restless, anxious country that it, too, could send a person into orbit and meet the Soviet challenge. After circling the Earth three times, Glenn safely splashed down.
In 1969, Johnson helped send Apollo 11 to the moon.
In 1986, Johnson retired from NASA.
In 2015, President Obama awarded 97-year-old Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom
Johnson died on Feb. 24, 2020 at the age of 101.
National Geographic is awarding Johnson the 2020 National Geographic Society Hubbard Medal for her contributions to space exploration, achievement in research, discovery, and exploration. Many say without her contributions to NASA, space exploration would not have been possible.
We are honored to present Katherine Johnson the Hubbard Medal, the National Geographic Society’s highest recognition, for her extraordinary contributions in the fields of science and exploration. Fifty years ago, the Apollo 11 astronauts were awarded with the medal, and we’re honored to recognize the mathematician whose precise calculations made those flights possible. Katherine’s legacy of exploration, innovation and inspiration lives on, and we are in awe of her remarkable achievements.Jill Tiefenthaler, National Geographic Society CEO
Johnson’s, Vaughan and Jackson’s stories from their time serving as the brains behind the 1962 launch into orbit, is shared to this day with the 2016 movie, ‘Hidden Figures.’