Katherine Johnson, born August 26, 1918 in White Sulphur Springs West Virginia, helped the United States go to the moon. A natural math genius and excellent student, Katherine started school in the 2nd grade (not kindergarten), and graduated High School at 14 years of age. Her parents moved her family 125 miles away from home in search of the education they knew she and her siblings needed, and Katherine lived up to that dream.
In College, her favorite professor created a special course in Analytic Geometry just for her. She was bright. Graduating Summa Cum Laude (the highest honor) with two degrees in Math and French, Katherine enrolled in West Virginia University to earn an graduate degree in Math. She was one of the first African Americans to enroll, but could not complete due to family obligations.
Katherine became a teacher, one of the few career options for women then. She left to marry and start a family. But Katherine in 1953 really wanted to go back to work, and went to join the early iteration of NASA (then called NACA). NASA then was specifically looking for African American women who would check the math and do calculations for engineers. Katherine would be key to NASA and the first US Space Flights!
Katherine didn't just check the math, her math was the basis for spaceflights. Katherine was one of the few who actually had the right training and intellect, and became part of the Spacecraft Controls Branch. In 1959, Katherine was the one to calculate the trajectory for Alan Shepard's flight, the first American in Space. In 1962, NASA used computers to chart John Glenn's orbit around earth, but NASA insisted on Katherine's personal verification of the math the computer came up with before allowing the John Glen to go up. In 1969, Katherine was also the one to calculate the Apollo 11 flight to the moon. It was one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind, with Katherine's massive intellect as part of the process along the way.
Today, Katherine lives in Hampton, Virginia, has six grandchildren, four great-grandchildren, and loves to play piano and bridge. Beyond helping the US go to the moon, Katherine has several honorary degrees, has co-authored many research papers, and is an excellent example of how wonderful our minds can be.