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Katherine Johnson, NASA Mathematician of ‘Hidden Figures’ Fame, Dies at 101

Katherine Johnson, a Black mathematician and one of the inspirations for the hit movie “Hidden Figures,” died Monday. She was 101.

The recipient of the 2015 National Medal of Freedom and a 2016 People magazine honoree as being among the 25 Women Changing the World, Johnson enjoyed a brilliant 33-year career at NASA. Her life story was told on the big screen in “Hidden Figures,” the award-winning 2016 movie starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe.

After leaving a teaching job in 1953, Johnson began working for NASA and was able to calculate the trajectory for numerous space missions, including for the spaceflight of Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and the trajectory for the famed 1968 Apollo 11 flight to the moon.

When astronaut John Glenn went to the moon, Johnson said her “Hidden Figures” crew acted as the computer for the mission. She said calculating everything involved in the flight became like a geometry problem.

“I felt most proud of the success of the Apollo mission,” Johnson told NNPA Newswire. “We had to determine so much. Where you were, where the moon would be and how fast the astronauts were going.

“We were really concerned but the astronaut had to do it just as we laid it out. I was looking at the television and hoping that we’re right,” she said.

Johnson began working at NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, in 1953 at the Langley, Virginia, laboratory.

She was the first woman in NASA’s Flight Research Division to receive credit as an author of a research report for her work with Ted Skopinski detailing the equations of an orbital spaceflight.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine called Johnson “an American hero.”

“Her pioneering legacy will never be forgotten,” Bridenstine tweeted Monday.

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