Katherine Johnson, mathematician and real-life subject of film ‘Hidden Figures,’ dies at 101

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HAMPTON, Va. (AP) — NASA says Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who worked on NASA’s early space missions and was portrayed in the film “Hidden Figures,” about pioneering black female aerospace workers, has died.

In a Monday morning tweet, the space agency said it celebrates her 101 years of life and her legacy of excellence and breaking down racial and social barriers.

Johnson was one of the so-called “computers” who calculated rocket trajectories and earth orbits by hand during NASA’s early years.

Until 1958, Johnson and other black women worked in a racially segregated computing unit at what is now called Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Their work was the focus of the Oscar-nominated 2016 film.

In 1961, Johnson worked on the first mission to carry an American into space. In 1962, she verified computer calculations that plotted John Glenn’s earth orbits.

At age 97, Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Clayton P. Turner, director of NASA’s Langley Research Center, issued the following statement:

We are saddened to learn of the passing of Katherine G. Johnson, a woman whose service to NASA and our nation will not be forgotten. Her strength of character, bravery and mastery of mathematics helped America push beyond inequality to accomplish what some thought impossible. 

Her life will inspire Americans for generations to come. 

Here at NASA’s Langley Research Center, where Johnson worked for some 33 years, we will carry forward her legacy. Katherine Johnson believed in equality. She overcame obstacles to achieve great things and make life better for others. 

Her example continues to guide us as we push the boundaries of human exploration, forward to the Moon and on to Mars.

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