Legendary NASA Mathematician, Katherine Johnson dies at 101

The legendary NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson passed away Monday morning at the age of 101. Katherine Johnson was a NASA mathematician whose legacy was portrayed in the film Hidden Figures. She helped calculate the trajectories that took Apollo astronauts to the Moon.

At NASA, we will never forget her courage and leadership and the milestones we could not have reached without her,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. “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.”

Katherine G. Johnson’s primary contributions at NASA were not only in computational science and research, she was also champion for women and minorities in the space program. The following are some of her well known contributions to space flight history:

  • Katherine Johnson was the first African American and the first woman to work in NASA’s Research Flight Division.
  • She was the first African American and the first woman to attend NASA’s Research Test Flight Briefings.
  • She was the first African American and first woman to have her name placed on a Scientific Report at NASA.
  • There are more than twenty five scientific reports in the NASA archive in space flight history that Katherine authored or co-authored.
  • When NASA used electronic computers for the first time to calculate John Glenn’s orbit around the Earth, NASA’s officials called on Johnson to verify the computer’s numbers. Glenn specifically asked for Johnson’s verifications, and he refused to fly unless she verified the calculations.
  • Johnson also helped to calculate the trajectory for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon.
  • As NASA began relying heavily on digital computers, they used Johnson’s calculations to help them check the accuracy of the computers; her validations caused NASA to establish confidence in the new digital computer technology.
  • Later in her career, Johnson worked on the Space Shuttle Program, the Earth Resources Satellite, and on plans for a mission to Mars.

References

  1. Loff, S. (2016, November 22). Katherine Johnson Biography. Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/content/katherine-johnson-biography
  2. Smith, Y. (2015, November 20). Katherine Johnson: The Girl Who Loved to Count. Retrieved from https://www.nasa.gov/feature/katherine-johnson-the-girl-who-loved-to-count
  3. Houston, J. L. (2019). The Life and Pioneering Contributions of an African American Centenarian. Notices of the American Mathematical Society66(03), 1. doi: 10.1090/noti1809

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