In recent months, Katherine Coleman Johnson has become a household name. The White Sulphur Springs native had been known locally, but only after the movie “Hidden Figures” was released in 2016 did she start to receive nation-wide attention for her extraordinary mathematical efforts that made it possible for NASA to put the first American into space.
“Hidden Figures” follows the story of three African-American women who were crucial in the early years of NASA’s space program, including Johnson.
Johnson returned to her hometown of White Sulphur Springs recently, to attend the White Sulphur Springs Public Library naming their building in her honor. The dedication took place on Johnson’s 99th birthday, Aug. 26. Her father, Joshua McKinnley Coleman, was recognized as well. The library’s community room now bears a plaque in his honor. A new sign was installed outside the library grounds, which highlights Johnson’s name.
Johnson worked for NASA for over 30 years up until 1986, using her math and computer skills to further mankind’s exploration of space. Johnson, known as a “human computer,” would calculate the paths that spacecraft would take as they orbited Earth and ultimately land on the moon. In later years, her math was used to send people to the moon and back in a time before digital computers were available.
Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barrack Obama in 2015, and numerous other awards throughout the years, including being named Mathematician of the Year by the National Technical Association in 1997. Her contributions to the scientific community are invaluable, and helped pave the way for space travel as we know it today.