Katherine Johnson, Hidden Figures NASA Mathematician, Has Died at 101

Katherine Johnson. Photo: Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic

Katherine Johnson, the NASA mathematician whose calculations were instrumental in the Apollo 11 mission, has died. She was 101. Johnson’s work leading a group of black women mathematicians at NASA during the space race was dramatized in the 2016 movie Hidden Figures, based on Margot Lee Shetterly’s nonfiction book of the same title. NASA announced Johnson’s death on Twitter Monday morning: “We’re saddened by the passing of celebrated #HiddenFigures mathematician Katherine Johnson. Today, we celebrate her 101 years of life and honor her legacy of excellence that broke down racial and social barriers.”

In Hidden Figures, Johnson was portrayed by Taraji P. Henson. The film won the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. Alongside Henson, the movie starred Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monáe as Johnson’s real-life co-workers: Spencer played mathematician Dorothy Vaughan, and Monáe played engineer Mary Jackson. Johnson presented at the ceremony and received a standing ovation.

In 2015, President Barack Obama gave Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom. According to NASA, Johnson considered her greatest contribution to be “calculations that helped synch Project Apollo’s Lunar Module with the lunar-orbiting Command and Service Module.”

Katherine Johnson, Hidden Figures Mathematician, Has Died