Katherine Johnson, Well-Known NASA Mathematician Whose Story Inspired 'Hidden Figures' Dies at the Age of 101

Lois Oladejo
Feb 27, 2020
04:20 A.M.
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Katherine Johnson, the female African-American mathematician whose calculations played a pivotal role in getting man into space, has passed away. 


NASA announced via Twitter, on Monday, that Johnson, aged 101 had passed on. She died at a retirement home in Newport Views, Virginia, on Monday morning.

The space agency announced the death, accompanied by a link to an official press release. The tweet read, "We're saddened by the passing of celebrated #HiddenFigures mathematician Katherine Johnson."

NASA space scientist, and mathematician Katherine Johnson poses for a portrait at work at NASA Langley Research Center in 1980 in Hampton, Virginia. | Photo: Getty Images


As NASA's announcement read, Johnson's contributions to the United States space exploration efforts in the mid-19th century were given proper recognition in the 2016 Oscar-nominated film "Hidden Figures."

However, Katherine's work and the significance of what she meant to the fields were much more prominent than what a single film could portray. 

As a mathematician, Johnson was part of the "Computer Pool" at NASA, a group of mathematicians who helped provide calculations and plot trajectories for astronauts as they made the first voyages to space.


However, her standout moment came when she took on the seemingly impossible task of helping to launch U.S. astronaut John Glenn into space and orbit around the Earth, in 1962. 

Even though the technology of her time was limited and the agency had ignored her work for years, Ms. Johnson was persistent in her brilliance, and she was able to take the lead in guiding the first American into space.

Katherine's diligence and hard work paved the way for young girls to dream big and achieve anything they set their minds to


Katherine Johnson's work also extended to assisting Neil Armstrong and the 1969 Apollo II crew as they made their flight to the moon. 

Thanks to the work of people like the mathematician, the United States was able to claim a crucial victory over the Soviet Union in the intense "Space Race" of the '60s.  

However, her significance extended beyond that. Katherine was influential in bringing both racial and sexual equality to NASA, an agency that was notoriously segregated in the '60s.  


Condolences have poured in from all spheres of the scientific community, as the world mourns the passing of a pioneer.

In a statement via twitter, NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine described Katherine as an American hero who helped to expand the United States' space frontier.

Taraji P. Henson, the actress who played Katherine in Hidden Figures, took to Instagram and thanked Katherine for inspiring generations of young girls.

In her post, she wrote that Katherine's diligence and hard work paved the way for young girls to dream big and achieve anything they set their minds to.