My choice for Letter J is Katherine G Johnson
Katherine Johnson, née Katherine Coleman, also known as Katherine Goble, (born August 26, 1918, White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, U.S.—died February 24, 2020,
Catherine‘s intelligence and skill with numbers became apparent when she was a child; by the time she was 10 years old, she had started attending high school. In 1937, at age 18, Coleman graduated with the highest honors from West Virginia State College (now West Virginia State University), earning bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and French. She subsequently moved to Virginia to take a teaching job. In 1939, however, she was selected to be one of the first three African American students to enroll in a graduate program at West Virginia University.
In 1953 she began working at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA)’s West Area Computing unit, a group of African American women who manually performed complex mathematical calculations for the program’s engineers. The women, known as the West Computers, analyzed test data and provided mathematical computations that were essential to the success of the early U.S. space program
At NASA Johnson was a member of the Space Task Group. In 1960 she coauthored a paper with one of the group’s engineers about calculations for placing a spacecraft into orbit. It was the first time a woman in her division received credit as an author of a research report. Johnson authored or coauthored 26 research reports during her career.
Johnson was also part of the team that calculated where and when to launch the rocket for the Apollo 11 mission of 1969, which sent the first three men to the Moon. Johnson later worked on the space shuttle program. She retired from NASA in 1986.
Johnson received numerous awards and honors for her work, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2015). In 2016 NASA named a building, the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility, after her. That year Margot Lee Shetterly published Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, about the West Computers, including Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. A film based on the book was also released in 2016.
I became aware of Johnson when I watched the movie, Hidden Figures. After watching the movie I bought the book as well. These were inspiring women who were acknowledged for their contributions rather late in life. But still, it’s wonderful that now a lot of people are aware of her and her colleagues. A definite source of inspiration.