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Katherine Johnson

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Date: 2020
Publisher: Gale, a Cengage Company
Document Type: Biography
Length: 339 words
Lexile Measure:

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About this Person
Born: August 26, 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, United States
Died: February 24, 2020 in Newport News, Virginia, United States
Nationality: American
Occupation: Mathematician
Other Names: Johnson, Katherine Coleman Goble; Johnson, Katherine G.
Full Text: 

Katherine Johnson Katherine Johnson did calculations for John Glenn’s orbit of Earth in 1962. Katherine Johnson did calculations for John Glenn’s orbit of Earth in 1962. © Alamy Stock Photo/NASA photo

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Words to Know

a group that studies space
to move in a circle around something

Katherine Johnson worked with numbers. She worked for NASA. She helped people travel into space.

Early Life

Johnson was born in 1918. She grew up in West Virginia.

Johnson was smart. She was good at math. She finished middle school early. She was only 10.

She could not go to high school. Her town did not have a high school for black students. Black students went to different schools. They could not go to school with white students.

So she took high school classes at a college instead. She later took college classes there. She studied math. She finished school in 1937.

Then she became a teacher. She taught at a school. It was for African Americans.

Career at NASA

Johnson had a special job. She started in 1953. It was for the government. She was a “human computer.”

Other people had this job, too. They solved math problems. These problems were important. They helped people travel in space.

NASA started in 1958. Johnson worked there. NASA wanted to put a person in space.

It did this in 1961. His name was Alan Shepard. He was the first American in space.

Johnson helped him do this. She used math to get him into space. She used math to get him home again.

Johnson helped others, too. She helped John Glenn. He orbited Earth.

She helped Neil Armstrong. He walked on the moon.


Johnson worked for NASA for many years. She left in 1986.

Johnson won many awards. One was the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This was in 2015.

Personal Life

Johnson married her first husband in 1939. They had three daughters. He died in 1956. She married again.

Johnson died in 2020. She was 101 years old.

Honored in Film

There was a movie about human computers. One is Katherine Johnson. It was made in 2016. It was called Hidden Figures.


Family: Married James Francis Goble, 1939 (deceased, 1956), children: Joylette, Katherine, and Constance; married James A. Johnson, 1959. Education: Graduated from West Virginia State College (now West Virginia State University) with degrees in mathematics and French, 1937; attended graduate school at West Virginia State University.

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Source Citation   

Gale Document Number: GALE|SYVJCZ527312775