Katherine Johnson, NASA Mathematician Depicted in ‘Hidden Figures,’ Dies at 101

Katherine Johnson on the 2017 Academy Awards with Janelle Monae Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer

She zipped through the school's math program, earning degrees in math and French before becoming one of the first black students in the graduate school at West Virginia University in 1938.

Johnson, who retired in 1986 from NASA, authored or co-authored 26 research projects.

The tributes to Johnson now flooding the media will add to what her remarkable career had already accumulated. Inside the Naca facility in Hampton, Virginia, signs indicated which bathrooms women and African Americans could use. As the small town had no schools for blacks beyond the eighth grade, her father sent her and her siblings to Institute, West Virginia, for high school. "But by the end of her life, she had become a hero to millions-including Michelle and me".

Striking out during "a time when computers wore skirts", she once said, Johnson quickly proved her incomparable worth. Astronaut John Glenn thought so much of her that he insisted Ms. Johnson be consulted before his historic earth-orbiting flight in 1962. And if she says the computer is right, I'll take it, ' " she recalled. Her husband had died the year before of cancer, and she was poised for the new developments that came when NACA was superseded by NASA.

Ms. Johnson found herself in a realm made up nearly exclusively of white men when she was chosen to be part of the team supporting the 1961 mission that made Alan Shepard the first American in space.

"We're saddened by the passing of celebrated #HiddenFigures mathematician Katherine Johnson. That really speaks to her competence and her resilience". "I had to be", wrote Johnson, who went on to co-author many more research papers. But in 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson - then 97 - the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honour. The next year, Margot Lee Shetterly's book Hidden Figures, as well as a movie adaptation by the same name, highlighted the accomplishments of Johnson and her colleagues.

The film was nominated for three Oscars. Ms. Johnson attended the 2017 Oscars ceremony, joining the film's cast in presenting an award for documentaries, and was given a standing ovation.

In a statement, the USA space agency said: "Today, we celebrate her 101 years of life and honor her legacy of excellence that broke down racial and social barriers".

Commenting on the commemoration, Johnson laughed. "I didn't do anything alone, but tried to go to the root of the question and succeeded there". "Thank you, Katherine Johnson".

Ms. Johnson and her black colleagues at the fledgling NASA were known as "computers" when that term was used not for a programmed electronic device but for a person who did computations.

She continued to dedicate herself to her job, working long hours during the turbulent time of the Cold War and the Space Race. "It is that spirit that got us to space, to the moon". Even in retirement, she advocated tirelessly for education in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, paving a path for students free to explore their passions without several of the barriers she faced in her own youth.



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