Hidden Figures inspiration NASA’s Katherine Johnson dies aged 101

Johnson was one of several influential African-American women to be involved in the US efforts during the space race

Portrait of NASA human computer and African-American mathematical pioneer Katherine Johnson (1918-2020) smiling, at a desk with notes, 1966. Image courtesy NASA. Note: Image has been digitally colorized using a modern process. Colors may not be period-accurate. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

The NASA mathematician who served as the inspiration for hit 2016 film Hidden Figures has passed away at the age of 101.

Advertisement

Katherine Johnson was one of several influential African-American women to be involved in US efforts during the space race, while working in separate facilities to white workers.

Tributes to the pioneering scientist were led by NASA, who claimed that she “helped lead us into a new era in space exploration” while praising her “pioneering spirit and incredible contributions to science and spaceflight.”

Margot Lee Shetterley, who wrote the book on which Hidden Figures was based, posted to Twitter that it was: “My life’s honor to tell the story of Katherine Johnson’s contributions to NASA, science, our country, and #HamptonRoads VA.”

She added, “Her brilliance helped us to see and celebrate other #hiddenfigures in history. You changed the narrative… Godspeed, Katherine Johnson.”

Johnson was played by Taraji P. Henson in the the acclaimed film, which scored three Oscar nominations, including a Best Picture nod.

Henson also joined the tributes, writing, “Thank you QUEEN #KatherineJohnson for sharing your intelligence, poise, grace and beauty with the world!

“Because of your hard work little girls EVERYWHERE can dream as big as the MOON!!! Your legacy will live on…”

Johnson was born in West Virginia in 1918 and arrived at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (which was later absorbed into NASA) in 1953. She went on to include calculating rocket trajectories and Earth orbits for early space missions among her long list of achievements at the agency.

Advertisement

In 2015, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama.