Katherine Johnson 1918-2020
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 (...) calculated
the precise trajectories
that would let Apollo 11 land
on the moon in 1969 and,
after Neil Armstrong’s
let it return to Earth.
A single error, she well knew,
could have dire consequences
for craft and crew.
Her impeccable calculations
had already helped plot
the successful flight
of Alan B. Shepard Jr.,
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.
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.
was one of several hundred
rigorously educated, supremely capable
yet largely unheralded women who,
well before the modern feminist movement,
worked as NASA mathematicians.
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
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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