NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson is dead at 101

NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson is dead at 101

Katherine Johnson, the NASA mathematician whose work broke down racial and social barriers and who was the inspiration for the award-winning film Hidden Figures, has died at 101.

Janelle Monae, Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer introduce Katherine Johnson as they present the award for best documentary feature at the Oscars in 2017.

In a Monday morning tweet, the space agency said it celebrates her 101 years of life and her legacy of excellence and breaking down racial and social barriers.

Johnson was one of the so-called “computers” who calculated rocket trajectories and earth orbits by hand during NASA’s early years.

Katherine Johnson at her desk at Langley Research Center.

Until 1958, Johnson and other black women worked in a racially segregated computing unit at what is now called Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

Their work was the focus of the Oscar-nominated 2016 film Hidden Figures.

Octavia Spencer, Taraji P. Henson and Janelle Monae in a scene from film Hidden Figures.

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 honour.

President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson.
Taraji P. Henson in a scene from the film Hidden Figures.

Johnson focused on aeroplanes and other research at first.

But her work at NASA’s Langley Research Center eventually shifted to Project Mercury, the nation’s first human space program.

“Our office computed all the (rocket) trajectories,” Johnson told The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in 2012.

“You tell me when and where you want it to come down, and I will tell you where and when and how to launch it.”

Actor Taraji P. Henson, co-recipient of the Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion


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In 1961, Johnson did trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 Mission, the first to carry an American into space.

The next year, she manually verified the calculations of a nascent NASA computer, an IBM 7090, which plotted John Glenn’s orbits around the planet.

Actor Taraji P. Henson played Johnson in the 2016 film, which won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture.