hidden figures – Katherine Johnson wife,mom and NASA spaceflight Mathematician

Portrait of Katherine Johnson
Portrait of Katherine Johnson
Credits: NASA
When asked to name her greatest contribution to space exploration, Katherine Johnson talks about the calculations that helped synch Project Apollo’s Lunar Lander with the moon-orbiting Command and Service Module.

Date of Birth: August 26, 1918
Hometown: White Sulphur Springs, WV
Education: B.S., Mathematics and French, West Virginia State College, 1937
Hired by NACA: June 1953
Retired from NASA: 1986
Actress Playing Role in Hidden Figures: Taraji P. Henson

Being handpicked to be one of three black students to integrate West Virginia’s graduate schools is something that many people would consider one of their life’s most notable moments, but it’s just one of several breakthroughs that have marked Katherine Johnson’s long and remarkable life. Born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia in 1918, Katherine Johnson’s intense curiosity and brilliance with numbers vaulted her ahead several grades in school. By thirteen, she was attending the high school on the campus of historically black West Virginia State College. At eighteen, she enrolled in the college itself, where she made quick work of the school’s math curriculum and found a mentor in math professor W. W. Schieffelin Claytor, the third African American to earn a PhD in Mathematics. Katherine graduated with highest honors in 1937 and took a job teaching at a black public school in Virginia.

When West Virginia decided to quietly integrate its graduate schools in 1939, West Virginia State’s president Dr. John W. Davis selected Katherine and two male students as the first black students to be offered spots at the state’s flagship school, West Virginia University. Katherine left her teaching job, and enrolled in the graduate math program. At the end of the first session, however, she decided to leave school to start a family with her husband.  She returned to teaching when her three daughters got older, but it wasn’t until 1952 that a relative told her about open positions at the all-black West Area Computing section at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’ (NACA’s) Langley laboratory, headed by fellow West Virginian Dorothy Vaughan. Katherine and her husband, James Goble, decided to move the family to Newport News to pursue the opportunity, and Katherine began work at Langley in the summer of 1953. Just two weeks into Katherine’s tenure in the office, Dorothy Vaughan assigned her to a project in the Maneuver Loads Branch of the Flight Research Division, and Katherine’s temporary position soon became permanent. She spent the next four years analyzing data from flight test, and worked on the investigation of a plane crash caused by wake turbulence. As she was wrapping up this work her husband died of cancer in December 1956.

The 1957 launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik changed history—and Katherine Johnson’s life. In 1957, Katherine provided some of the math for the 1958 document Notes on Space Technology, a compendium of a series of 1958 lectures given by engineers in the Flight Research Division and the Pilotless Aircraft Research Division (PARD). Engineers from those groups formed the core of the Space Task Group, the NACA’s first official foray into space travel, and Katherine, who had worked with many of them since coming to Langley, “came along with the program” as the NACA became NASA later that year. She did trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s May 1961 mission Freedom 7, America’s first human spaceflight. In 1960, she and engineer Ted Skopinski coauthored Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite Over a Selected Earth Position, a report laying out the equations describing an orbital spaceflight in which the landing position of the spacecraft is specified. It was the first time a woman in the Flight Research Division had received credit as an author of a research report.

In 1962, as NASA prepared for the orbital mission of John Glenn, Katherine Johnson was called upon to do the work that she would become most known for. The complexity of the orbital flight had required the construction of a worldwide communications network, linking tracking stations around the world to IBM computers in Washington, DC, Cape Canaveral, and Bermuda. The computers had been programmed with the orbital equations that would control the trajectory of the capsule in Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission, from blast off to splashdown, but the astronauts were wary of putting their lives in the care of the electronic calculating machines, which were prone to hiccups and blackouts. As a part of the preflight checklist, Glenn asked engineers to “get the girl”—Katherine Johnson—to run the same numbers through the same equations that had been programmed into the computer, but by hand, on her desktop mechanical calculating machine.  “If she says they’re good,’” Katherine Johnson remembers the astronaut saying, “then I’m ready to go.” Glenn’s flight was a success, and marked a turning point in the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union in space.

When asked to name her greatest contribution to space exploration, Katherine Johnson talks about the calculations that helped synch Project Apollo’s Lunar Lander with the moon-orbiting Command and Service Module. She also worked on the Space Shuttle and the Earth Resources Satellite, and authored or coauthored 26 research reports. She retired in 1986, after thirty-three years at Langley. “I loved going to work every single day,” she says. In 2015, at age 97, Katherine Johnson added another extraordinary achievement to her long list: President Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor.

Biography by Margot Lee Shetterly

Apollo 11 Launch left 7/16/ l NASA landed on the moon 7/20

Apollo 11 Launch

The American flag heralded the launch of Apollo 11, the first Lunar landing mission, on July 16, 1969. The massive Saturn V rocket lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center with astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin at 9:32 a.m. EDT. Four days later, on July 20, Armstrong and Aldrin landed on the Moon’s surface while Collins orbited overhead in the Command Module. Armstrong and Aldrin gathered samples of lunar material and deployed scientific experiments that transmitted data about the lunar environment.

Image Credit: NASA

Last Updated: Aug. 7, 2017
Editor: NASA Content Administrator

7/19-20 1848 – The Women’s Rights Convention took place in Seneca Fall, NY. Bloomers were introduced at the convention.

The Women’s Rights Movement and the Women of Seneca Falls

From The Recorder, August 3, 1848 (Syracuse).
Library of Congress

Meredith WorthenJul 13, 2017


On July 19-20, 1848, hundreds of women and men met in Seneca Falls, New York for the very first woman’s rights convention in the United States. Its purpose was “to discuss the social, civil, and religious condition and rights of women.” Organized by women for women, many consider the Seneca Falls Convention to be the event that triggered and solidified the women’s rights movement in America. Historians and other scholars agree that the leaders of the Seneca Falls Convention played a significant role in shaping the first wave of feminism in the United States and starting the fight for women’s suffrage.


Lucretia Mott and Elizabeth Cady Stanton


Stanton and Mott
The leaders of the Seneca Falls Convention were Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her friend Lucretia Mott. These two abolitionists met nearly ten years earlier at London’s World Anti-Slavery Convention in 1840. Although they were outspoken activists against slavery and other social injustices, their voices remained unheard in a world where men’s voices dominated. Together, the duo vowed to work toward a society where women’s voices would resound loudly and their rights would be equal to men’s.

Stanton and Mott were a likely pair from the start. Both northerners (Stanton from New York and Mott from Massachusetts), they were outspoken activists from early ages. In her 20s, Mott became a progressive Quaker minister well-known for her speeches against social injustice. At the age of 17, Stanton graduated from Emma Willard’s Troy Female Seminary and began her fight for abolition, temperance, and women’s rights. With Stanton’s eloquent writing skills and Mott’s powerful speaking abilities, the two were destined to be heard.

Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances

Drafted by Stanton and introduced at the Seneca Falls Convention, the Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances was a treatise modeled closely on the Declaration of Independence. Stanton added “women” to its preamble proclaiming “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal…” She went on to describe the injustices, inequities, and invisibilities that American women felt and ended the Declaration with a call for action. Stanton wanted U.S. women to organize and fight for equality. On the second day of the convention, the Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances was ratified by the assembly which included Frederick Douglass. They also passed 12 resolutions that specifically necessitated equal rights for women including the ninth resolution that proclaimed women’s right to vote. This effectively marked the beginning of the women’s suffrage movement in America.

The Lasting Significance of Seneca Falls

Following the Seneca Falls Convention, many national woman’s rights conventions were held annually throughout the United States with many focusing on women’s suffrage. Serving as its first President, Stanton founded the National Woman Suffrage Association (NWSA) in 1869 along with Susan B. Anthony. More than 70 years after the women’s suffrage movement began in Seneca Falls, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote in 1920. This landmark victory changed American women’s lives forever and later ushered in new waves of feminism focused on a wide range of issues including reproductive rights, sexuality, family, the workplace, immigration, and gender equality.

Commemorating the Women of Seneca Falls

In 1948, a U.S. postage stamp commemorating the Seneca Falls Convention titled “100 Years of Progress of Women” was issued. It featured Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Carrie Chapman Catt, and Lucretia MottElizabeth Cady Stanton Carrie Chapman Catt and Lucretia Mott stamp

A Seneca Falls Convention commemorative stamp was issued in 1948.
(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)


In 1980, a seven-acre park was established in Seneca Falls and named “The Women’s Rights National Historical Park.” It includes the location of the Seneca Falls Convention (Wesleyan Methodist Church), Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s home which she referred to as “the Center of the Rebellion,” and the M’Clintock House where Mary Ann M’Clintock hosted a planning session on July 16, 1848 for the Convention and where the Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances was written.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton House
Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s home at 32 Washington Street in Seneca Falls, NY/
(Photo: Kenneth C. Zirkel (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons)

In 2016, the U.S. treasury announced new changes. Keeping in theme with the changes to the $20 bill which include Harriet Tubman prominently featured on its front, on the back of the newly redesigned $10 bill sit five powerful women who contributed to the women’s suffrage movement including Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Lucretia Mott, Susan B. Anthony, Alice Paul, and Sojourner Truth.
Although these women have been celebrated in numerous ways throughout history, this is the first time Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott will be featured on U.S. cash. Their roles in the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention secured them a place in women’s rights history and it is notable that they will be commemorated in this way. As pioneers in the drive for women’s suffrage and anti-slavery activism, their voices at the Seneca Falls Convention continue to resound loudly.


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