Katherine Johnson, the famed NASA mathematician depicted in “Hidden Figures,” has died. She was 101.
NASA confirmed Johnson’s death on social media writing, “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.”
Johnson’s story was told in the Oscar-nominated 2016 film “Hidden Figures” about black women who were hired as human computers to work complicated equations that became an integral part of human space exploration.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine released a statement about Johnson’s inspirational life and legacy.
“NASA is deeply saddened by the loss of a leader from our pioneering days, and we send our deepest condolences to the family of Katherine Johnson,” Bridenstine began.
The @NASA family will never forget Katherine Johnson’s courage and the milestones we could not have reached without her. Her story and her grace continue to inspire the world. https://t.co/UPOqo0sLfb pic.twitter.com/xwnRX9oZoi
— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) February 24, 2020
“Ms. Johnson helped our nation enlarge the frontiers of space even as she made huge strides that also opened doors for women and people of color in the universal human quest to explore space.”
“Her dedication and the skill as a mathematician helped put humans on the Moon and before that made it possible for our astronauts to take the first steps in space that we now follow on a journey to Mars,” Bridenstine said.
In an article published by NASA in 2015, Johnson said that as a girl, she was fascinated with numbers and had a joy for math that made her 33 years of work as a research mathematician happy and fulfilling.
“I counted everything. I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed … anything that could be counted, I did,” the National Medal of Freedom recipient said.
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 flew through elementary and high school at a rocket’s pace and entered West Virginia State College at age 15, graduating at age 18.
She began working for NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, in 1953 at the Langley laboratory in Virginia.
Johnson’s job title was literally “computer,” and her skill set quickly became prized among astronauts who trusted her calculations above electronic computers.
“Early on, when they said they wanted the capsule to come down at a certain place, they were trying to compute when it should start,” Johnson said in a 2008 article published by NASA.
“I said, ‘Let me do it. You tell me when you want it and where you want it to land, and I’ll do it backwards and tell you when to take off.’ That was my forte.”
Johnson broke down racial and social barriers during her time at NASA and even beyond as she continued to speak publicly about the importance of STEM education.
“At NASA we will never forget her courage and leadership and the milestones we could not have reached without her,” Bridenstine said.
“We will continue building on her legacy and work tirelessly to increase opportunities for everyone who has something to contribute toward the ongoing work of raising the bar of human potential.”
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