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NASA, Numbers and Broken Barriers

Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson defied racial and gender stereotypes during the early days of NASA, where she used her math and celestial navigation skills to calculate the trajectories for Alan Shepard’s first space flight and Apollo 11’s flight to the moon. Johnson began working for NASA in 1953, where she spent her first two weeks performing math calculations in a pool of women before being sent on temporary assignment to the all-male flight research team. Her knowledge of analytical geometry helped her stand out, and she was never sent back to the pool. Instead she worked as a computer mathematician and later an aerospace technologist for 30 years, contributing to the success of countless NASA missions.

Illustration by Kirby Salvador

This feature originally appeared in the Future issue. For more inspiring women, check out Grandma Moses’s story and our 5 Women section.