Katherine G. Johnson, the NASA mathematician who played a key role in helping America win the space race and whose story was featured in the 2016 film Hidden Figures, died Monday.
Johnson’s unquenchable passion would take her far beyond the segregated schools of her childhood in West Virginia and all the way to the halls of NASA, where she would become one of the early trailblazers for women and African Americans in the space program.
At the time, White Sulphur Springs didn’t have a high school for African-American students, but because of Johnson’s extraordinary intellect, her family relocated 120 miles away to Institute, W.Va., where she attended high school on the campus of West Virginia State.
A year later, Johnson completed trajectory calculations for the 1961 Freedom 7 mission, the first time the U.S. put a man in space.
In spite of her impact on America’s space program, Johnson’s work went largely unnoticed by the wider public until Margot Lee Shetterly’s 2016 book, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, which became the award-winning film, Hidden Figures.