Katherine Johnson, famed NASA mathematician and inspiration for the film ‘Hidden Figures,’ dies

For almost her entire life, her seminal work in American space travel went unnoticed. Only recently has Johnson's genius received national recognition. Johnson, a pioneering mathematician who, along with a group of other brilliant black women, made US space travel possible, died this week. She was 101. NASA announced Johnson's death on Monday. Johnson was part of NASA's "Computer Pool," a group of mathematicians whose data powered NASA's first successful space missions. The group's success largely hinged on the accomplishments of its black women members. Her work went largely unrecognized until the release of 2016's "Hidden Figures," a film portrayal of Johnson's accomplishments while the space agency was still largely segregated.

Her talent was evident early on

Johnson was born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, in 1918. Her preternatural talent for math was quickly evident, and she became one of three black students chosen to integrate West Virginia's graduate schools, according to her NASA biography.She started her career as a teacher but had her sights set on mathematical research. Following an executive order that prohibited racial discrimination in the defense industry, Johnson was hired at NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and NASA's predecessor. She was one of several black researchers with college degrees hired for the agency's aeronautical lab through the initiative. She started in 1953 in the facility's segregated wing for women before she was quickly transferred to the Flight Research Division, where she remained for several years. But midway through the '50s, the space race between the US and the Soviet Union began to intensify. So did Johnson's career. NASA renames facility for real-life 'Hidden Figures' hero Katherine JohnsonShe was tasked with performing trajectory analysis for Alan Shepherd's 1961 mission, the first American human spaceflight. She co-authored a paper on the safety of orbital landings in 1960 — the first time a woman in the Flight Research Division received credit for a report. Despite often being the only woman in briefings, she quickly gained notice for her accuracy. John Glenn requested her help before his orbit around Earth in 1962. He was skeptical of the computers that calculated his spacecraft's trajectory, so he told engineers to "get the girl" and compare Johnson's handwritten calculations to the computer's. "'If she says they're good, then I'm ready to go,'" Johnson remembered Glenn saying. She gave the OK, and Glenn's flight was a success. His mission — and Johnson's role in it — helped nudge the US ahead in the space race. By the time Johnson retired from NASA in 1986, she'd mapped the moon's surface ahead of the 1969 landing and helped astronauts aboard the Apollo 13 safely land back on Earth.

Her work was ignored for decades

After the release of the book "Hidden Figures," which was published in 2016 and turned into a film the following year, officials lobbed heaps of praise on Johnson and two other black women mathematicians in the agency's Computer Pool, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. Katherine Johnson, who hand-crunched the numbers for America's first manned space flight, is 100 todayNASA renamed a facility for Johnson in February 2019. A street in front of NASA headquarters in Washington was renamed "Hidden Figures Way" for the three women in July. And in November, the three women plus engineer Christine DardenRead More – Source