NASA mathematician, Katherine Johnson, has passed away at 101-years-old. Johnson was a Black mathematician who calculated the flight path for NASA’s first space mission and the first moon landing. The details of her accomplishments were highlighted in the 2017 box office hit, “Hidden Figures.”
As an African American aerospace pioneer, Johnson was a trailblazer for racial equity and an advocate for STEM education. Born in 1918 — in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia — Johnson defied the odds and went on to graduate from West Virginia State College with highest honors in 1937. She then went on to work at what is now known as NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
In the midst of racial and gender oppression, Johnson didn’t let discrimination stop her from achieving her dreams of becoming a research mathematician.
“I didn’t have time for that… don’t have a feeling of inferiority. Never had. I’m as good as anybody, but no better,” she said in a NASA press release.
In 1958, she became involved in the Space Task Force where she served as a mathematician.
“We wrote our own textbook, because there was no other text about space,” she said in a NASA article. “We just started from what we knew. We had to go back to geometry and figure all of this stuff out.”
After 33 years of service, Johnson retired from the agency in 1986 after receiving many awards including NASA Lunar Orbiter Award and three NASA Special Achievement Awards. She was also named Mathematician of the Year in 1997 by the National Technical Association and holds an honorary Doctor of Law degree from the State University of New York and an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Capitol College in Maryland and Old Dominion University in Virginia.
In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson with the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. NASA also named the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility Building in her honor in 2017.
Johnson will forever be remembered by her courage, intelligence, bravery, and dedication to the world of aerospace. Although we mourn her loss, we also celebrate her life and legacy she leaves behind. Thank you for paving the way for us all.