HOUSTON (CBSDFW.COM/AP) – Her story inspired countless young women to reach for the stars.
Pioneering black mathematician Katherine Johnson has died, according to NASA.
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.
We're saddened by the passing of celebrated #HiddenFigures mathematician Katherine Johnson. Today, we celebrate her 101 years of life and honor her legacy of excellence that broke down racial and social barriers: https://t.co/Tl3tsHAfYB pic.twitter.com/dGiGmEVvAW
— NASA (@NASA) February 24, 2020
Johnson worked on NASA’s early space missions and was portrayed in the Oscar-nominated 2016 film “Hidden Figures,” about black female aerospace workers. Her calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed spaceflights.
Johnson was one of the so-called “computers” who calculated rocket trajectories and earth orbits by hand during NASA’s early years. Her work included calculating trajectories, launch windows and emergency return paths for Project Mercury spaceflights, including those for astronauts Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and John Glenn, the first American in orbit, and rendezvous paths for the Apollo Lunar Module and command module on flights to the Moon. Her calculations were also essential to the beginning of the Space Shuttle program, and she worked on plans for a mission to Mars.
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.
Johnson’s mother was a teacher and her father was a farmer and janitor. From a young age, she excelled at mathematics and could easily solve complicated mathematical equations.
President Barack Obama presented Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
She was 101 years old.