Katherine Johnson, one of NASA ‘Hidden Figures,’ dies at 101

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HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — Katherine Johnson, a pioneering American icon featured in the movie “Hidden Figures,” has died at age 101, NASA announced Monday.

“Our @NASA family is sad to learn the news that Katherine Johnson passed away this morning at 101 years old,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine tweeted Monday morning. “She was an American hero and her pioneering legacy will never be forgotten.”

The groundbreaking African American mathematician worked on complex space missions as a “human computer” for NASA Langley in Hampton, including calculating the trajectories for Alan Shepard’s history-making journey into space and giving the “go-ahead” for John Glenn’s historic mission into orbit.

Born in August 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Johnson was often overlooked until the 2016 movie “Hidden Figures,” which highlighted the work and challenges she, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and Dr. Christine Darden faced while working at Langley. Actress Taraji P. Henson portrayed Johnson in the movie.

In 2015, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, and was chosen in November to receive the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor presented by Congress.

NASA Langley Center Director Clayton Turner released the following statement regarding Johnson’s passing:

“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.”

Clayton P. Turner, Director, NASA’s Langley Research Center

Johnson’s passing means that Dr. Christine Darden is now the only living “Hidden Figure.” Darden, who sat down with WAVY’s Laura in 2018, is 77 and still lives in Hampton Roads.

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