Katherine Johnson, a notable African American, NASA Mathematician, and one of the 3 legendary women depicted in film Hidden Figures, passes away at 101-years-old.
Johnson attended West Virginia State University (then WV State College), enrolling at the age of 15. Given her trailblazing legacy, it is unsurprising to learn how quickly she excelled, graduating summa cum laude in 1937 at 18-years-old with bachelor’s degrees in both mathematics and French. Johnson was a proud member of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Sorority, Inc.
“You got the best education there could be at the time (in Institute),” Johnson recalled recently in the documentary ‘Rise Up West Virginia.’ “You knew everybody. It was a small high school and it was pleasant to be there, but everybody knew you. Everybody in the high school knew everybody in the college and it was just like being at home.”
Notable moments on Johnson’s career include:
- Becoming the first woman in the Flight Research Division to receive credit as an author of a research report for her work with Ted Skopinski on detailing the equations describing an orbital spaceflight
- According to NASA, when Johnson was asked to discuss her greatest contribution to space exploration,she reflects on the calculations that helped synchronize Project Apollo’s Lunar Lander with the moon-orbiting Command and Service Module
- Becoming one of the first African American women to work at National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), calculating the trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American in space
- Being names Mathematician of the Year in 1997 by the National Technical Association.
- Receiving an honorary Doctor of Law degree from the State University of New York and honorary Doctor of Science degrees from Capitol College in Maryland and Old Dominion University in Virginia
In the film Hidden Figures she was portrayed by fellow HBCU alumna, Taraji P. Henson. Actresses Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae portrayed her trailblazing “co-legends,” Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, respectively. Henson shares,:
When Johnson was honored by President Barack Obama in 2015, NASA shared:
WVSU shared, “In bestowing the award, President Barack Obama called Johnson, “a pioneer in American space history,” whose mathematical calculations “influenced every major space program from Mercury through the Shuttle program.”
Katherine Johnson was 5 years shy of being a 100-years-old when she was recognized by President Obama—some 30 years after she retired from NASA.
“The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, presented to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors…” writes NASA.
In a statement released earlier this morning, NASA shares, “Our NASA family is sad to learn the news that Katherine Johnson passed away this morning at 101 years old,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine posted to Twitter. “She was an American hero and her pioneering legacy will never be forgotten.”
Our heartfelt condolences to the Johnson family and her loved ones.