A young Katherine Johnson working at NASA.

A young Katherine Johnson working at NASA.

Katherine C. Johnson brought audience members at the 2017 Oscars to their feet in a standing ovation when she arrived onstage to wave and thank admirers, at age 98, with actresses Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe. The trio told her story and that of her fellow NASA pioneers Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson in Hidden Figures.

Johnson thought the Oscar-nominated film “was very well done” and has been pleasantly surprised by all the attention, her daughter, Joylette Hylick, told Fierce.

President Obama also awarded Johnson a Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

“None of us every expected anything like this — ever,” Hylick said.

The retired NASA mathematician and space science pioneer began her career at Langley Research Center in 1953, after learning that the agency was looking for African-American women to work as “human computers.”

In her now legendary story, she joined NASA’s Space Task Force in 1958 and calculated the flight trajectory for Alan Shepard — the first American to go into space — in 1959 as well as for John Glenn.

Click here to listen to Johnson tell the story of how she built her groundbreaking career.

Also read about Johnson as one of the 15 Fiercest Sisters of 2015.


ORAL HISTORY SERIES: Learn more about Katherine Johnson through the National Visionary Leadership Project.