2019 IEEE President’s Award

Katherine G. Johnson

“For fundamental computational contributions to the success of America’s first and subsequent manned spaceflights, including Apollo 11.”

Katherine G. Johnson is a mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. manned spaceflights.  From 1953 to 1958, Johnson worked as a “computer” analyzing topics such as gust alleviation for aircraft.  From 1958 until her retirement in 1986, Johnson worked as an aerospace technologist, moving during her career to the Spacecraft Controls Branch.  Her work included calculating trajectories, launch windows, and emergency return paths for Project Mercury spaceflights, including the 5 May 1961 spaceflight of astronauts Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and John Glenn, the first American in orbit.  Johnson also helped to calculate the trajectory for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon.  Her calculations were also essential to the beginning of the Space Shuttle Program.