HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – America lost one if its heroes and legacies on Monday. Known as a “Human Computer for NASA,” Katherine Johnson passed away at the age of 101.
No cause was given, but NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine posted on Twitter saying “the NASA family will never forget Katherine Johnson's courage and the milestones we could not have reached without her."
U.S. Space and Rocket Center Museum Education Manager Joseph Vick said Johnson used her passion to guide us to places we’ve never been.
Johnson and her passion for mathematics helped bring man to the moon.
"She applied that passion to a position at NASA where she used her knowledge and her skill to propel us as a country, astronauts, and a science-loving society, into orbit,” said Vick.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Johnson was part of what NASA called their "computer pool,” a group of mathematicians whose computations powered the first successful space missions. The group's black women members were critical to its accomplishments.
"Being of the time period where she worked for NASA, there was an enormous struggle, the civil rights struggle,” said Vick.
For almost her entire life, Johnson’s work went largely unnoticed, until recently. The movie “Hidden Figures" portrayed Johnson's accomplishments while the space agency was still largely segregated.
In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2018, a statue was revealed at West Virginia State University in her honor. In 2019, NASA renamed one of its facilities after her legacy.
"Mathematics is power," said Vick. "Having a passion for a subject area can be your legacy, and having an experience with that passion can lead to great, out-of-this-world things."
She will forever be remembered for shooting for the stars and landing man on the moon.