West Virginia University Libraries and the West Virginia and Regional History Center
will celebrate the life and legacy of the NASA mathematician and space pioneer Katherine
Johnson in the Downtown Library’s Milano Reading Room on September 29 at 3:30
At the event, West Virginia and Regional History Center Director
Lori Hostuttler will announce Johnson as the latest addition to the WVRHC’s
Distinguished West Virginians Program and officially open Johnson’s archives,
which include notebooks, photographs, correspondence, memorabilia, awards and
“I am delighted that the Katherine Goble Johnson Papers are
now available for all to see and use at the WVRHC,” Hostuttler said. “They
provide valuable insight into her extraordinary life for future researchers and
scholars. Her story is a source of inspiration for all West Virginians – it is
an honor to steward her collection.”
Most people learn about Johnson’s achievements through her portrayal
by Taraji Henson in the movie “Hidden Figures,” which highlighted the struggles
of black women mathematicians and others working for the early days of NASA.
Audiences watched her climb a ladder and on a large
chalkboard calculate astronaut John Glenn’s orbit around Earth for his February
20, 1962 mission. Johnson was
asked to verify the numbers produced by NASA’s computers for that flight.
She also made significant strides by contributing to various
reports, such as a trajectory analysis for the 1961 Freedom 7 mission with Alan
Shepard, America's inaugural human spaceflight. Additionally, alongside
engineer Ted Skopinski, she authored “Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout
for Placing a Satellite Over a Selected Earth Position,” marking the first
instance of a woman in the Flight Research Division being credited as an author
of a research report.
“Katherine Johnson’s story serves as an inspiration for so
many people – myself included,” Wes Deadrick, director of NASA’s Katherine
Johnson Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Facility in Fairmont,
said. “Her accomplishments helped pave the way for other women, people of
color, and even folks from more rural areas to find a place for themselves at
Deadrick will deliver remarks during the event, and Johnson’s
daughters, Joylette Goble Hylick and Katherine Goble Moore will participate in
a question and answer session. Also, Johnson’s autobiography, “My Remarkable
Journey – A Memoir,” will be available for signing.
In addition, a selection of items from Johnson’s collection
will be on display.
Johnson was born in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. and completed
high school at 14. She graduated summa cum laude from West Virginia State
College (now University) with degrees in mathematics and French. She pursued graduate
studies at WVU, where she was one of the first black graduate students.
In 1953, after teaching for seven years in elementary and
high schools in West Virginia and Virginia, she began working as a pool
mathematician or “computer” for the Langley Research Center part of the
National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in Hampton, Va. Johnson
continued to work as an aerospace technologist until her retirement in 1986.
In November 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson
with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. On Sept. 22, 2017, NASA dedicated the
Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility in Fairmont. She died on
Feb. 24, 2020, but her legacy continues through her archives at the WVRHC.
“We are honored to host the archives that highlight the life
and impact of such an important American, and such a distinguished West Virginian
in our West Virginia and Regional History Center,” Dean of Libraries Karen Diaz
said. “These archives are important markers of Katherine Johnson's humanity and
talent and will continue to be used by researchers over time.”