Katherine Johnson, a NASA mathematician known for her essential work on the nation's first mission to space and the first landing on the moon, has died at age 101. Johnson was portrayed by Taraji P. Henson in the Oscar-nominated 2016 film Hidden Figures, also the title of a nonfiction book.
"NASA is deeply saddened by the loss of a leader from our pioneering days, and we send our deepest condolences to the family of Katherine Johnson," NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement on Monday. "Ms. Johnson helped our nation enlarge the frontiers of space even as she made huge strides that also opened doors for women and people of color in the universal human quest to explore space."
Johnson was born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia and was attending classes at the high school on the historically black West Virginia State College campus by the age of 13. After graduating from the university itself in 1937 at the age of 18, Johnson became a teacher at a black public school in Virginia. Years later, Johnson would join the team behind a project at the Maneuver Loads Branch of the Flight Research Division at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA)'s Langley laboratory that would lead to many of her life's most inspiring accomplishments.
With her co-authoring of the Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite Over a Selected Earth Position report with NASA in 1960, Johnson made history, as the moment marked the first time that a woman in the Flight Research Division had been given author credit on such a report.
Just two years later, Johnson's expertise was utilized as a pivotal element in the Friendship 7 mission with John Glenn.
"I found what I was looking for at Langley," Johnson said in an interview back in 2008. "This was what a research mathematician did. I went to work every day for 33 years happy. Never did I get up and say I don't want to go to work."
Rest in power.