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History > 20th century > USA > Civil rights > Breaking the color barrier > Science > Katherine Johnson    1918-2020




Katherine Johnson,

part of a small group

of African-American women mathematicians

who did crucial work at NASA, in 1966.



NASA/Donaldson Collection, via Getty Images


Katherine Johnson Dies at 101;

Mathematician Broke Barriers at NASA

She was one of a group

of black women mathematicians at NASA

and its predecessor who were celebrated

in the 2016 movie “Hidden Figures.”

The New York Times

Feb. 24, 2020    Updated 10:48 a.m. ET





























































Katherine Johnson (born Creola Katherine Coleman)    1918-2020


Wielding little more

than a pencil, a slide rule

and one of the finest

mathematical minds

in the country,

Mrs. Johnson (...)


the precise trajectories

that would let Apollo 11 land

on the moon in 1969 and,

after Neil Armstrong’s

history-making moonwalk,

let it return to Earth.


A single error,

she well knew,

could have

dire consequences

for craft and crew.


Her impeccable


had already helped plot

the successful flight

of Alan B. Shepard Jr.,

who became the first

American in space

when his Mercury spacecraft

went aloft in 1961.


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.


Yet throughout

Mrs. Johnson’s

33 years in NASA’s

Flight Research Division

— the office from which

the American space

program sprang —

and for decades afterward,

almost no one knew

her name.


Mrs. Johnson

was one of several hundred

rigorously educated,

supremely capable

yet largely unheralded

women who,

well before the modern

feminist movement,

worked as NASA


But it was not only her sex

that kept her

long marginalized

and long unsung:


Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson,

a West Virginia native

who began

her scientific career

in the age of Jim Crow,

was also African-American.


In old age,

Mrs. Johnson became

the most celebrated

of the small cadre

of black women

— perhaps three dozen —

who at midcentury served

as mathematicians

for the space agency

and its predecessor,

the National Advisory

Committee for Aeronautics.


Their story was told

in the 2016 Hollywood film

“Hidden Figures,” based on

Margot Lee Shetterly’s

nonfiction book

of the same title,

published that year.


The movie starred

Taraji P. Henson

as Mrs. Johnson,

the film’s central figure.

It also starred

Octavia Spencer

and Janelle Monáe

as her real-life colleagues

Dorothy Vaughan

and Mary Jackson.






















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