Katherine JohnsonKatherine Johnson was an American mathematician who calculated and analysed the flight paths of many spacecraft during her more than three decades as a NASA employee.

Her calculations were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed spaceflights.

Johnson’s skill and intelligence with numbers became apparent when she was a young child. By the age of 10 she had started attending high school and by the age of 18 had graduated with the highest honours from West Virginia State College, earning bachelor’s degrees in Maths and French.

In 1953 she was employed by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA, later becoming National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), where she formed part of the Space Task Group. Here she calculated the flight trajectory for Alan Shepherd, the first American to go into space in 1959, as well as many other significant missions until her retirement in 1986.

Johnson has been the recipient of NASA’s Lunar Spacecraft and Operation’s Group Achievement Award and NASA’s Apollo Group Achievement Award. She received the NASA Langely Research Center Special Achievement Award in 1971, 1980, 1984, 1985 and 1986.

Below, we take a look at some of Katherine Johnson’s most inspirational quotes:


“Girls are capable of doing everything men are capable of doing. Sometimes they have more imagination than men.”

“I don’t have a feeling of inferiority. Never had. I’m as good as anybody, but no better.”

“Like what you do, and then you will do your best.”

“We will always have STEM with us. Some things will drop out of the public eye and will go away, but there will always be science, engineering, and technology. And there will always, always be mathematics.”

“We needed to be assertive as women in those days – assertive and aggressive – and the degree to which we had to be that way depended on where you were. I had to be.”

“I like to learn. That’s an art and a science.”

“In math, you’re either right or you’re wrong.”

“I counted everything. I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed … anything that could be counted, I did.”

“The women did what they were told to do. They didn’t ask questions or take the task any further. I asked questions; I wanted to know why. They got used to me asking questions and being the only woman there.”

“You are no better than anyone else, and no one is better than you.”

“Take all the courses in your curriculum. Do the research. Ask questions. Find someone doing what you are interested in! Be curious!”

“I see a picture right now that’s not parallel, so I’m going to go straighten it. Things must be in order.”

“Everything was so new – the whole idea of going into space was new and daring. There were no textbooks, so we had to write them.”

“Let me do it. You tell me when you want it and where you want it to land, and I’ll do it backwards and tell you when to take off.”