Hidden Figure: Meet Katherine Johnson!


Stephanie as Katherine Johnson

Today’s Dope Queen is the inspiration for the film Hidden Figures, Katherine Johnson! Katherine Johnson is a physicist and mathematician. Her contributions were integral to NASA’s Space Race.


Born in Greenbrier, West Virginia, Johnson was a math prodigy at an early age. She graduated from high school at the age of 14 and attended West Virginia State College, a local HBCU. She aced her math classes, graduating summa cum laude with high honors.

Adobe Spark (1)

Johnson was the first African-American woman to desegregate Virginia University’s graduate school. She taught for a while, then took on a job as a mathematician at NASA’s Langley campus in 1953. She worked in a pool of other black “computers” from 1953 to 1958. Despite their hard work they had to endure a segregated workplace. She proved her worth with her outspoken nature and talent.


R_1966-L-06717 001
Katherine Johnson at work at Nasa, 1966 (By NASA; restored by Adam Cuerden (Public Domain), Via Wikimedia Commons)

Johnson persisted and moved up the ranks. She became an Aerospace Technologist in the Spacecraft Controls Branch in 1958. Some of her achievements during her tenure include:


  • Calculating the trajectory for Alan Shepard’s May 5th, 1961 space flight,
  • Verifying the numbers on John Glen’s orbit around Earth.
  • Calculating the trajectory for the 1969 Apollo 11 launch to the moon


Katherine Johnson Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom
Katherine Johnson receives The  Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama (By NASA (Public domain), via Wikimedia Commons)

In November 2015 Johnson was presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom for being a pioneering example of African American in STEM. Her life story was made into a best-selling book and movie, Hidden Figures. It starred Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spenser, and Janelle Monae. The movie was a Best Picture nominee at the 89th Annual Academy Awards. Johnson received a standing ovation during a surprise appearance at the ceremony.


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