NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson passed away today at the age of 101. Johnson was known for her work on historic missions and projects including America’s first human spaceflight (Alan Shepard—Freedom 7) and first orbital spaceflight (John Glenn—Friendship 7), syncing Project Apollo’s lunar module with the command module, the Space Shuttle program and the Earth Resources Satellite (Landsat). She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2019 for her contributions.
“Ms. Johnson helped our nation enlarge the frontiers of space even as she made huge strides that also opened doors for women and people of color in the universal human quest to explore space,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Her dedication and skill as a mathematician helped put humans on the moon and before that made it possible for our astronauts to take the first steps in space that we now follow on a journey to Mars … At NASA we will never forget her courage and leadership and the milestones we could not have reached without her.”
Johnson was born on Aug. 26, 1918, in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, and graduated from West Virginia State College in 1937. She worked at NASA’s Langley Research Center—formerly called the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) Langley Aeronautical Laboratory—from 1953 until her retirement in 1986. During her time at NACA/NASA, Johnson authored or coauthored 26 research reports.
A remarkable person and outstanding American. RIP Katherine Johnson and thank you for your service.
After WWII when a phenomenal buildup of the flight testing mission at (then) Muroc AAF — now Edwards AFB — was occurring, NACA transferred a group of it’s female “computers” there to support the work. In 1972 when I showed up at Edwards AFB, some of them were still there and working prior to the digital revolution when computers routinely took over their work. I had the pleasure of working with a few of them reducing complex analog flight test data into usable format. All of those gals were called “computers” for a reason. We now better realize the formidable contribution they all made. What a wonderful memory of times now long gone.
RIP Katherine Johnson.