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NASA Math Pioneer Dies
News Bytes 02/25/2020 12 Comments

Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who worked on NASA’s early space missions, died yesterday. The film Hidden Figures, about pioneering black female aerospace workers, portrays her inspiring story. The 101-year-old Johnson leaves behind a legacy of excellence and breaking down racial and social barriers.

Johnson (August 26, 1918 – February 24, 2020) received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from West Virginia State College. In 1953, she became one of NASA’s so-called “computers” (as in, people who compute math problems). She spent her early career developing air safety standards.

But when NASA entered the space race, the agency needed someone to calculate orbits and flight paths. “Let me do it,” Johnson told her bosses. Soon she was calculating rocket trajectories and Earth orbits—all by hand. (For more information, see “NASA Facility Honors Katherine Johnson.”)

Johnson worked on Project Mercury, the nation’s first human space program.

Until 1958, she and other black women worked in a racially segregated computing unit at what is now called Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

 “Our office computed all the [rocket] trajectories,” Johnson told a reporter in 2012. “You tell me when and where you want it to come down, and I will tell you where and when and how to launch it.”

In 1961, Johnson worked on the first mission to carry an American into space. The next year, a new room-sized IBM 7090 plotted John Glenn’s orbits around the planet.

According to NASA, Glenn knew about Johnson’s experience with trajectory (flight path) analysis. During a preflight check, the astronaut asked Johnson to run the numbers by hand. Johnson remembers Glenn saying, “If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go.”

Four years ago, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.

Johnson’s legacy goes far beyond Earth—literally. As NASA historian Bill Barry says, “If we go back to the Moon or to Mars, we’ll be using her math.”

(In this November 24, 2015, photo, baseball great Willie Mays, right, looks on as President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

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Most recent comments

wow

She lived a really long time! I had a great great aunt that just died last year and she was 105! I saw that movie Hidden Figures, it was really good. I don't know which person she was, I watched it a long time ago. RIP, Katherine Johnson.

That's sad, but I'm glad

That's sad, but I'm glad Katherine Johnson had such a long and successful life. She did so many amazing things!

It's amazing how although she

It's amazing how although she was looked down on for the color of her skin she was able to overcome the obstacles and have NASA hire her to do great work of such importance. I wonder how many times she checked her work.

Interesting

Ms. Johnson leaves behind quite the impressive legacy!

I read about her

I read about her in a book and in it it said: Born - 1918- because she hadn't died yet so she inspired me about space.
It's really sad she died :'(

Janna (Daniel's sister)

That's sad that she died. I know a lady who just turned 103!

wow

Ive just read her artcle sunday!

@ Bethsarah G

@ B G Remember? In ‘Get brexit done: Uk votes’. Katherine Johnson might be a great aunt I never knew about! Haha!! Do you get it?
@Everyone Anyways, she must have trained her brain so much! Especially when she was older! Bc if she was like 90 and she was still doing math then that’s cool! Maybe she did lots of sudokus...! I don’t know of any relatives that have lived longer than 91. And that person passed away ages ago. The oldest we have now is 83
Question: was Barack Obama the US president before D.T?

@Mirela J

I remember

@Mirela J

Yes

92

I have a great-grandfather(my grandpa's father) who's turning 93 this year.And another great-father(my grandma's father) is turning 88 in March.Bothof them are on my mom's side.

have i read about her or is my brain messing with me????????????

my great grandmother died like 2 years ago she was 101

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