Katherine Johnson, 'hidden figure' at NASA during 1960s space race, dies at 101
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Pioneering NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, whose calculations played a major role in the development of the Space Shuttle program, died Monday at the age of 101, NASA confirmed.

Johnson was part of NASA’s “Computer Pool” team in the 1960s, which was largely composed of black women who processed data by hand. They provided the calculations for several of the first successful manned space missions, including Alan Shepard’s in 1961 and John Glenn’s in 1962, when he became the first American to orbit the earth.

Johnson also became the first woman to write a technical report in NASA’s flight research division with a 1960 paper, “Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite Over a Selected Earth Position,” co-authored with Ted Skopinski. Johnson worked with NASA for nearly three decades before her retirement in 1986.


She was later portrayed by Taraji P. Henson in the 2016 film “Hidden Figures” and accompanied Henson to the 2017 Academy Awards. 

Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Obama in 2015 and received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2019.

“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,” NASA tweeted.

"Our @NASA family is sad to learn the news that Katherine Johnson passed away this morning at 101 years old,” added NASA Administrator Jim BridenstineJames (Jim) Frederick BridenstineThe day President Kennedy sent America to the moon Bill Nelson is a born-again supporter of commercial space at NASA Has the Biden administration abandoned the idea of a moon base? MORE. “She was an American hero and her pioneering legacy will never be forgotten."

Johnson was “critical to the success of the early U.S. space programs,” Bill Barry, NASA’s chief historian, told The Washington Post in a 2017 interview for her eventual obituary.

“She had a singular intellect, curiosity and skill set in mathematics that allowed her to make many contributions, each of which might be considered worthy of a single lifetime.”