Katherine Johnson: Hidden Figures Nasa mathematician dies at 101

Pioneering African-American Nasa mathematician Katherine Johnson has died at the age of 101. Nasa announced her death on Twitter, saying it was celebrating her life and honouring “her legacy of excellence that broke down racial and social barriers”.

Ms Johnson calculated rocket trajectories and Earth orbits for Nasa’s early space missions.

She was portrayed in the 2016 Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures. The film tells the story of African-American women whose maths skills helped put US astronaut John Glenn into orbit around the Earth in 1962. Ms Johnson verified the calculations made by new electronic computers before his flight.


Katherine Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 | Photo: Reuters


Ms Johnson had previously calculated the trajectory for the space flight of Alan Shepard – the first American in space. Such was her skill and reputation that Glenn had asked for her specifically and had refused to fly unless she verified the calculations. She also helped to calculate the trajectory for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon.

Ms Johnson was born in a small town in West Virginia in 1918 and was fascinated by numbers from a young age. “I counted everything. I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed…anything that could be counted, I did,” she once said.

She excelled academically, graduating from high school at just 14 and from university at 18. Nasa notes that her academic achievements were particularly impressive “in an era when school for African-Americans normally stopped at eighth grade for those that could indulge in that luxury”.

After working as a teacher and being a stay-at-home mum, Ms Johnson began working for Nasa’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (Naca), in 1953. There, she had the job title “computer” and was tasked with calculating trajectories for early US space missions.

During the space race between the US and the former Soviet Union, Ms Johnson and her African-American colleagues worked in separate facilities to white workers, and used different toilets and dining areas. She always said she was too busy with her work to be concerned about being treated unequally.

Read full article:   https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-us-canada-51619848

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