Katherine Johnson, NASA Mathematician and Hidden Figures Inspiration, Dies at 101

The world is mourning the passing of NASA mathematician and trailblazer, Katherine Johnson. She passed away on February 24th at the age of 101.

Johnson, who was an essential role in many of the first space missions for NASA, did trajectory analysis for America’s first human spaceflight in 1961. She also was the first woman in light Research Division to get credit as an author of a research report in 1960.

One of her most memorable contributions was when helped crunch numbers that would ultimately control trajectory of astronaut John Glenn’s orbital mission. She did this to make sure that the IBM computer’s calculations were correct.

Her work with NASA was portrayed in the oscar-nominated film and best-selling book Hidden Figures, with Taraji P. Henson playing the role of Johnson.

She was born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia and studied at West Virginia State College where she became the first black woman to desegregate the graduate school. She became a school teacher for years before taking a job with NASA in 1953, earning the nickname the “human computer”. She retired in 1986, but coauthored 26 research reports and also did work on the Space Shuttle and the Earth Resources Satellite.

She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2015.