NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson has died at the age of 101. Born in 1918 in the little town of White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Johnson was one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist.
Johnson was fascinated by numbers and, as you can imagine, she was incredibly smart. By the time she was 10 years old, she was in high school. She graduate from high school at 14 and from college at 18.
She became a teacher and then a stay-at-home mother. In 1953, she started working at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA, the predecessor to NASA, as a “computer” running calculations.
As a computer, she calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American in space. Even after NASA began using electronic computers, John Glenn requested that she personally recheck the calculations made by the new electronic computers before his flight aboard Friendship 7 – the mission on which he became the first American to orbit the Earth. She continued to work at NASA until 1986 combining her math talent with electronic computer skills. Her calculations proved as critical to the success of the Apollo Moon landing program and the start of the Space Shuttle program, as they did to those first steps on the country’s journey into space.
In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Katherine Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
We’re saddened by the passing of celebrated #HiddenFigures mathematician Katherine Johnson. Today, we celebrate her 101 years of life and honor her legacy of excellence that broke down racial and social barriers: https://t.co/Tl3tsHAfYB pic.twitter.com/dGiGmEVvAW
— NASA (@NASA) February 24, 2020