NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, portrayed in ‘Hidden Figures,’ dead at 101

Katherine Johnson, a trailblazing NASA mathematician whose story was told in the “Hidden Figures” book and movie, died Monday morning.

She was 101.

Johnson, a black woman from West Virginia, was hired at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in 1953 as part of the so-called Computer Pool, a group of people, mostly women, who worked as data processors before computers were invented.

Among her projects were Alan Shepard’s May 1961 mission Freedom 7, America’s first human spaceflight, but her most well known work was on John Glenn’s 1962 orbital mission, when he ordered engineers to “get the girl” to re-run the equations calculated by the computer for his trajectory.

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NASA research mathematician Katherine Johnson is photographed at her desk at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, U.S., in this image from 1966. NASA/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
U.S. President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to NASA mathematician Katherine G. Johnson during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington November 24, 2015. Johnson is a pioneer in American space history. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 26: NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson (C) and director Ezra Edelman (R) and producer Caroline Waterlow (L), winners of Best Documentary Feature for 'O.J.: Made in America' pose in the press room at the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Dan MacMedan/Getty Images)
HOLLYWOOD, CA - FEBRUARY 26: NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson appears onstage during the 89th Annual Academy Awards at Hollywood & Highland Center on February 26, 2017 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 24: U.S. President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former NASA mathematician Katherine G. Johnson during an East Room ceremony November 24, 2015 at the White House in Washington, DC. Seventeen recipients were awarded with the nationÕs highest civilian honor. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 24: U.S. President Barack Obama kisses former NASA mathematician Katherine G. Johnson after he presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom during an East Room ceremony November 24, 2015 at the White House in Washington, DC. Seventeen recipients were awarded with the nationÕs highest civilian honor. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 24: Pioneering NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson (L) and Baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays are presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House November 24, 2015 in Washington, DC. Obama presented the medal to thirteen living and four posthumous pioneers in science, sports, public service, human rights, politics and arts, (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2017, file photo, Katherine Johnson, the inspiration for the film, "Hidden Figures," poses in the press room at the Oscars at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. Johnson, the NASA mathematician whose calculations helped bring Apollo astronauts back to Earth, is being honored at her alma mater with a bronze statue and a scholarship in her time. West Virginia State University says a dedication ceremony is planned for Aug. 25, 2018, the day before Johnson’s 100th birthday. (Photo by Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)
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“If she says they’re good,” Glenn said, “then I’m ready to go.”

in 2015, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama.

“Today, we celebrate her 101 years of life and honor her legacy of excellence that broke down racial and social barriers,” NASA tweeted Monday.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine called Johnson an “American hero” and said her “pioneering legacy will never be forgotten.”

“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 quest to explore space,” Bridenstine said in a statement. "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.

Johnson’s barrier-breaking work was immortalized in “Hidden Figures,” written by Margot Lee Shetterly. The 2016 Oscar-nominated movie, based on Shetterly’s book, starred Taraji P. Henson as Johnson, Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan and Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson.

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