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In 2015, Barack Obama awarded Katherine with the Presidential Medal of Freedom award for her lifetime of outstanding work. Today, she’s 100 years old.

 

Fun Fact: Katherine Johnson’s ambitious story is also featured in the non-fiction book and movie, Hidden Figures: The Story of the African-American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race (2016).

Katherine Johnson was a mathematician for NASA whose calculations of orbital mechanics lead to the succession of the first manned space flight and many other expeditions. Her life is full of breakthroughs. As a child, she was hand-picked to be one of three black students to integrate in West Virginia’s school system. At 13 years old, she graduated high school and proceeded to graduate summa cum laude at West Virginia State University by 18 years old.

 

Later she was employed by the West Area Computing section at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) to analyze data from flight tests. NACA was then succeeded to NASA. At NASA, she was known as the human computer because her calculations were essential to the Space Shuttle Program and Mission to Mars.