Born in 1918 in West Virginia, Katherine G. Johnson made the most of limited educational opportunities for African Americans, graduating from college at age 18. She began working in aeronautics as a "computer" in 1952 for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which was integrated into NASA following its formation in 1958. There, she performed the calculations that sent astronauts into orbit in the early 1960s and to the moon in 1969. Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. Since then, she has seen her story brought to light through a book and an Oscar-winning film the following year.
Her trailblazing contributions were celebrated at the dedication ceremony where Margot Lee Shetterly, the author of Hidden Figures and keynote speaker, said of the "human computers": “We are living in a present that they willed into existence with their pencils, their slide rules, their mechanical calculating machines — and, of course, their brilliant minds." She said to Johnson: