Famous African-American mathematician Katherine Johnson has died


Katherine Johnson died today at the age of 101. Image: NASA

Katherine Johnson, a famous revolutionary African-American mathematician who had a significant impact on the US space program, has passed away. She was 101 years old.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement: “NASA is deeply saddened by the loss of a leader in our pioneering days, and we extend our deepest condolences to the family of Katherine Johnson. Ms. Johnson has helped our nation expand the borders of space while making tremendous strides that have also opened doors for women and people of color in the universal human quest to explore space. Her dedication and skill as a mathematician helped put humans on the Moon and before that allowed our astronauts to take the first steps in space that we now take on a trip to Mars… At NASA , we will never forget his courage and leadership. and the milestones we could not have achieved without it. We will continue to build on his legacy and work tirelessly to increase opportunities for all who have something to contribute to the ongoing work to raise the bar of human potential. “

Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the National Space Council, said, “Today our nation has lost a great American space pioneer, the original hidden figure, Katherine G. Johnson. In the face of adversity and racial discrimination, she has made untold contributions to America’s space program and pushed the frontiers of human knowledge with her genius.

Taraji.  P Henson stars as Katherine Johnson in "Hidden characters."  Image: Weatherboy
Taraji. P Henson plays the role of Katherine Johnson in “Hidden Figures”. Image: Weatherboy

The award-winning film, Hidden Figures, was based on his life. The film stars Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson. Janelle Monáe stars as Mary Jackson, who as an aerospace engineer worked on data analysis from wind tunnel experiments at the Theoretical Aerodynamics branch of the Subsonic-Transonic Aerodynamics Division at Langley . Octavia Spencer plays the role of the first computer programmer Dorothy Vaughan who takes on responsibilities in the Langley IT department even though the Virginia-based center was separate. Other actors in the film include Kevin Costner, Kirsten Dunst, and Jim Parsons, all of whom took on various roles during NASA’s early days.

When we think of NASA’s adventures in space, on the moon and beyond, we often think of high-tech gadgets and impressive computing power. One rarely thinks of the human power involved in these missions to leave Earth, especially at a time decades before personal computers and smartphones. Hidden Figures not only reveals the humans hidden in the mix with these missions, but their plight against the backward social mores that frustratingly held back the humans who wanted to advance humanity. Against the backdrop of a segregated South in which women were treated as second-class citizens and African-American women viewed even less, the brilliant performances of Henson, Monáe and Spencer show what these three women really were: American heroes. Despite the ugly institutional racism that was the norm of the time there, these three women had their own societal hype to aim for the benefit of America and humanity in space.

Born August 26, 1918 in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia, Johnson graduated from West Virginia State College with highest honors in 1937. Even before college, she was accomplished. She was one of three black female students handpicked for integration into West Virginia graduate schools. After attending graduate school and working as a teacher at a public school, she was hired in 1953 by what is today known as NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va., But then moved on called the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory. She retired from the center in 1986.

A statement released by NASA sums up Johnson: “NASA mathematician, pioneer in the quest for racial equality, contributor to our country’s early triumphs in manned space flight and champion of STEM education, Katherine G. Johnson is featured in among the most inspiring figures in NASA.

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