HOUSTON – A NASA trail-blazer, who opened doors for women and African Americans, has died.
Katherine Johnson, whose life was made into a movie called ”Hidden Figures,“ is dead at 101.
”We have lost an American hero with her passing, but we have been left with a legacy that will carry on for generations to come,” said Monica Foley, the chief of staff at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
Johnson was an African American NASA mathematician who broke gender and race barriers while coming up with the math to send astronauts into orbit. Starting in the 1950s, Johnson was a computer at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia.
”Basically she’s a walking calculator, so launching our astronauts and landing them safely back on the earth by the stroke of her pencil and her sheer brilliance,” Foley said.
During her three decades at NASA, Johnson calculated the launch window for America’s first human space flight. She verified the calculations for John Glenn’s historic first American orbit of earth. She calculated the trajectory of Apollo 11’s flight to the moon and worked on the plan that saved Apollo 13’s crew and returned them safely to Earth.
In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson the highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Johnson’s impact on NASA goes beyond her calculation. Foley imagined what today’s NASA would be like if there had been no Katherine Johnson.
“I think we would significantly lack the diversity that we appreciate and enjoy and share in today,” Foley said. “She opened the door for so many scientists and engineers, and even nontechnical folks who look like me, that don’t look like me.“