Katherine Johnson The Mathematician Who Helped NASA Put A Man In Space Dies Aged 101

by : Lucy Connolly on : 24 Feb 2020 15:29
Katherine Johnson The Mathematician Who Helped NASA Put A Man In Space Dies Aged 101Katherine Johnson The Mathematician Who Helped NASA Put A Man In Space Dies Aged 101PA Images/NASA

Mathematician Katherine Johnson, who helped pave the way for NASA to put a man in space, has died at the age of 101.


NASA confirmed Johnson’s passing in a tweet on Monday morning, February 24, writing: ‘Today, we celebrate her 101 years of life and honour her legacy of excellence that broke down racial and social barriers.’

Johnson was hired by NASA in 1953, and calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepard – the first American in space – before electronic computers were used.

John Glenn, who became the first American to orbit the Earth, requested Johnson personally re-check the calculations made by the new electronic computers when he was preparing for his mission. ‘If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go,’ Glenn reportedly said, as ABC News reports.


In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honour, saying: ‘In her 33 years at NASA, [Johnson] broke the barriers of race and gender, showing generations of young people that everyone can excel in math and science and reach for the stars.’

NASA katherine johnsonNASA katherine johnsonPA Images

The following year, after she had risen to mainstream attention, Johnson’s research was celebrated in Hidden Figures, a 2016 film in which the lives of Johnson and other African American women at NASA were highlighted. The mathematician was played by Taraji P. Henson.

The Oscar-nominated film also tells the story of mathematician Dorothy Vaughan (Octavia Spencer) and engineer Mary Jackson (Janelle Monáe), depicting the women’s struggle against sexism and racism during a time when segregation was still rife throughout the country.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine led tributes to the late mathematician, describing her as ‘an American hero’, whose ‘pioneering legacy will never be forgotten’.

Bridenstine said:

Johnson helped our nation enlarge the frontiers of space even as she made huge strides that also opened doors for women and people of colour.

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.

katherine johnson nasakatherine johnson nasaNASA

In 2017, NASA honoured the mathematician with the Katherine Johnson Computational Research Facility in Hampton.

Our thoughts are with Katherine’s family and loved ones at this difficult time. Rest in peace, Katherine.

If you have experienced a bereavement and would like to speak with someone in confidence contact Cruse Bereavement Care via their national helpline on 0808 808 1677.

Lucy Connolly

A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).

Topics: Science, America, Hidden Figures, Katherine Johnson, maths, NASA


NASA/Twitter and 2 others
  1. NASA/Twitter


  2. ABC News

    Katherine Johnson, mathematician and real-life subject of 'Hidden Figures,' dies at 101

  3. Jim Bridenstine/Twitter