Katherine Johnson, Hidden Figures Mathematician Dies at 101
Katherine Johnson, a reknown black female mathematician who calculated rocket trajectories and earth orbits for NASA’s early space missions has passed away at 101 years old. Johnson and her work was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated 2016 film Hidden Figures.
Johnson and many other intelligent black women in the 1950’s worked in a racially segregated computing unit previously known as NACA. Johnson focused on research and airplanes. Her research at NASA’s Langley Research Center landed her a position working for Project Mercury, the nation’s first human space program.
NASA posted to their Instagram stating:
“Tonight, count the stars and remember a trailblazer.
We’re saddened by the passing of celebrated mathematician Katherine Johnson. Her spirit and determination helped lead us into a new era in space exploration, and for that we are grateful.
Once a “human computer”, she famously calculated the flight trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American in space. And when we began to use electronic computers for calculations, astronaut John Glenn said that he’d trust the computers only after Johnson personally checked the math. Her calculations proved as critical to the success of the Apollo Moon landing program and the start of the Space Shuttle program, as they did to those first steps on the country’s journey into space.
We celebrate her 101 years of life and honor her legacy of excellence that broke down racial and social barriers.”
In 1961, Johnson worked on the first mission to carry an American into space. In 1962, she verified computer calculations that plotted John Glenn’s earth orbits. At age 97, Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
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