NASA's 'Hidden Figure' Dies at 101

Katie Ramirez
March 29, 2020

Katherine Johnson, a mathematician whose little-known flight path calculations for NASA's early space missions were brought to light in the 2016 film "Hidden Figures", died on Monday at 101.

The release of "Hidden Figures" made Johnson one of the most celebrated black women in space science and a hero for those calling for action against sexism and racism in science and engineering. But her mentor, William Waldron Schieffelin Claytor-who was reportedly the third African American to receive a doctorate in math-persuaded his bright young student to change fields.

"NASA was a very professional organization", Johnson told The Observer of Fayetteville, North Carolina, in 2010. "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". The astronauts were fearful that the computers onboard would break, so they relied on Katherine's mathematical expertise to run everything out on paper.

They asked Katherine Johnson for the moon, and she gave it to them.

Creola Katherine Coleman was born August 26, 1918, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, the youngest of four children of Joshua and Joylette (Lowe) Coleman. But the contributions she made weren't recognized until decades later. Ambitious Johnson applied the second year too and her application was accepted the second time.

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Johnson was one of the so-called "computers" who calculated rocket trajectories and earth orbits by hand during NASA's early years. Due to national laws at the time, however, the black workforce had to use completely separate restrooms, computers, and office spaces than their white counterparts. The agency became NASA in 1958, and Johnson remained at the agency until she retired, in 1986. "You had a mission and you worked on it, and it was important to you to do your job. and play bridge at lunch".

In the film, she was highlighted as one of the three brilliant African-American women who were behind some of NASA's greatest operations in history.

The next year, she likewise helped make it possible for John Glenn, in the Mercury vessel Friendship 7, to become the first American to orbit the Earth.

"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".

Johnson was awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President Barack Obama in 2015, and in 2016 he cited her in his State of the Union Address as an example of America's spirit of discovery. "She wished it away, willed it out of existence inasmuch as her daily life was concerned".

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