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Hubbard Medal

The Hubbard Medal, National Geographic’s highest honor, recognizes lifetime achievement in research, discovery, and exploration. This prestigious award was first presented to explorer Robert E. Peary in 1906 by U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, and it exemplifies our passionate belief in the power of science, exploration, education, and storytelling to change the world. Other distinguished awardees have included astronaut John Glenn, aviation pioneers Charles and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, marine archaeologist Bob Ballard, primatologist Jane Goodall, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, and most recently, botanist Peter Raven.

2020 Awardee

Katherine Johnson
Photograph by David C. Bowman, NASA

Katherine Johnson  

The National Geographic Society is proud to present Katherine Johnson with the Hubbard Medal in recognition of her pioneering work in the field of mathematics and exploration. A research mathematician, Johnson joined NASA's predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, in 1953 as a “computer”—one of several women hired to make precise calculations before the use of electronic computers. She made extraordinary contributions to the United States’ achievements in space, including calculating the trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American to get there. Even after NASA began using electronic computers, John Glenn requested that she recheck the calculations made electronically before his flight aboard Friendship 7—the mission on which he became the first American to orbit the Earth. Her calculations also proved critical to the success of the Apollo moon landing program and the start of the space shuttle program. She worked at NASA until 1986. Among her other honors, Johnson received the nation's highest civilian award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, from President Obama in 2015.