Real-Life 'Hidden Figures' Mathematician Katherine Johnson Dead at 101

Image Janelle Monae Katherine Johnson Taraji P. Henson Octavia Spencer

She graduated from high school at 14 and finished college with degrees in math and French from historically black West Virginia State College.

Johnson first worked on airplane programs, then joined Project Mercury, the first USA human space program.

NASA also paid tribute to Johnson on their Twitter. Inside the Naca facility in Hampton, Virginia, signs indicated which bathrooms women and African Americans could use.

Johnson spent her later years encouraging students to enter the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

"My dad taught us, 'You are as good as anybody in this town, but you're no better, '" she told Nasa in 2008.

Her husband James died of a brain tumor in 1956, leaving her a single mother of three children at 38.

When John Glenn was preparing for his mission on which he'd become the first American to orbit the Earth, he requested that Johnson personally recheck the calculations made by the new electronic computers.

During the space race between the USA and the former Soviet Union, Ms Johnson and her African-American colleagues worked in separate facilities to white workers, and used different toilets and dining areas.

Reuters reports that Katherine Johnson worked with NASA for 33 years on programmes including the Mercury and Apollo missions - including the first Moon landing in 1969 - and the early years of the space shuttle.

"Her brilliance helped us to see and celebrate other #hiddenfigures in history. That really speaks to her competence and her resilience".

NASA space scientist and mathematician Katherine Johnson at Langley Research Center in Va. in 1966
NASA space scientist and mathematician Katherine Johnson at Langley Research Center in Va.

Johnson was a remarkable mind and person whose achievements went for too long unnoticed.

Former US President Barack Obama presented Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the country, in 2015.

In the 2016 book Hidden Figures, on which the film of the same title was based, the author Margot Lee Shetterly wrote of Johnson's "eye-numbing, disorienting work" crunching numbers.

The film was nominated for three Oscars. When Johnson took the stage at the 2017 Academy Awards ceremony, the mathematician-then 98 years old and the only one of the movie's central characters still alive at the time of its release-received a thunderous standing ovation.

Commenting on the commemoration, Johnson laughed.

"He knew I had done [the calculations] before for him and they trusted my work", Ms. Johnson told the Washington Post in 2017. "I always liked something new. I didn't do anything alone, but tried to go to the root of the question and succeeded there".

In 2018, Mattel debuted a Katherine Johnson Barbie as a part of their Inspiring Women line.

It was Glenn who even asked for Johnson to hand-check the computer-calculated equations of the trajectory of his mission through its orbit.

She continued to dedicate herself to her job, working long hours during the turbulent time of the Cold War and the Space Race.

There, she had the job title "computer" and was tasked with calculating trajectories for early U.S. space missions.


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