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Celebrating Katherine Johnson, NASA research mathematician, who died at 101

Katherine Johnson’s work dates back to NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) in 1953 before there was ever a NASA.

The NASA research mathematician’s life is memorialized in the 2016 film Hidden Figures which follows “a team of female African-American mathematicians who served a vital role in NASA during the early years of the U.S. space program.”

Johnson died today at the incredible age of 101, leaving behind a legacy that will inspire generations for centuries.

She calculated Alan Shepard’s trajectory during America’s first trip into space in 1961. The title of this 2008 profile from NASA says it all: “She Was a Computer When Computers Wore Skirts.”

Johnson lived 1918 to 2020 — we were lucky to have her.

Recommended reading: the recently published Reaching for the Moon: The Autobiography of NASA Mathematician Katherine Johnson.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine shared this statement on Katherine Johnson’s passing:

“NASA is deeply saddened by the loss of a leader from our pioneering days, and we send our deepest condolences to the family of Katherine Johnson. Ms. Johnson helped our nation enlarge the frontiers of space even as she made huge strides that also opened doors for women and people of color in the universal human quest to explore space. Her dedication and skill as a mathematician helped put humans on the moon and before that made it possible for our astronauts to take the first steps in space that we now follow on a journey to Mars. Her Presidential Medal of Freedom was a well-deserved recognition.

“At NASA we will never forget her courage and leadership and the milestones we could not have reached without her. We will continue building on her legacy and work tirelessly to increase opportunities for everyone who has something to contribute toward the ongoing work of raising the bar of human potential.”

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella added this perspective: