Hidden Figures' Katherine Johnson dies aged 101 Movies

Katherine Johnson

Pioneering NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson dies aged 101

There aren't too many people on the face of the planet that have accomplished what Katherine Johnson was able to accomplish. At school, she was mentored by Angie Turner King, who taught her geometry.

Reuters reports that Katherine Johnson became mathematics-obsessed during her childhood in West Virginia, with her parents moving 120 miles so she could attend a high school for black children. No matter what I did, I was always finding something to count: "the floorboards, the cracks in the sidewalk, the trees as I walked by, the train cars stacked with timber and those piled with coal that lumbered along the edge of our town each day".

Katherine Johnson was honoured with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former US President Barack Obama in 2015. "I think they're insane", she told NASA in a pre-taped interview. She grew up around the historically black Hampton University-where some of the women in Hidden Figures studied.

Octavia Spencer played Dorothy Vaughan and Janelle Monáe depicted Mary Jackson, the other two women who were the brains of the operation. Johnson, Vaughan and Jackson are the three Hidden Figures in the book as well as the film. He reportedly asked engineers to "get the girl", meaning Johnson, to repeat the same trajectory calculations using nothing but a pen, a ruler, some paper, and a mechanical calculator.

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Katherine Johnson, a ground-breaking black NASA mathematician whose life was portrayed in the movie "Hidden Figures," died on Monday aged 101, the space agency said.

The pivotal roles of Johnson and other African-American women at NASA were highlighted in the 2016 film "Hidden Figures". "We needed to be assertive as women in those days - assertive and aggressive - and the degree to which we had to be that way depended on where you were".

Though Johnson's landmark contributions went mostly unheralded by mainstream media throughout her tenure at Langley, the 2010s finally brought her name into the public eye.

Soon after joining NACA, Johnson was assigned to the Flight Research Division. 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".

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Thus began the definitive phase of her work.

Johnson and a colleague were the first to calculate the parameters of the suborbital 1961 flight of astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American in space. Her trajectory calculations, and backup navigational charts, ensured the project's lunar lander, carrying Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, set down safely on the surface of the Moon.

Johnson, who was initially rejected by NASA when she first applied, was tasked by Glenn to check the computer's work by redoing all the math done by a computer that had been programmed with the orbital equations that would control the trajectory of the capsule in Glenn's Friendship 7 mission. The orbits were calculated by early IBM computers.

Johnson remembered Glenn saying: "If she says they're good, then I'm ready to go".

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