Katherine Johnson, a NASA mathematician who was portrayed by Taraji P. Henson in the 2016 Oscar-nominated film “Hidden Figures,” has died.
On Monday, the aeronautic organization announced the legendary physicist’s death at the age of 101.
“NASA is deeply saddened by the loss of a leader from our pioneering days, and we send our deepest condolences to the family of Katherine Johnson. 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,” Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.
"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," he continued. "Her Presidential Medal of Freedom was a well-deserved recognition.” The honor was presented to Johnson by then-President Barack Obama.
Bridenstine concluded, “At NASA we will never forget her courage and leadership and the milestones we could not have reached without her. We will continue building on her legacy and work tirelessly to increase opportunities for everyone who has something to contribute toward the ongoing work of raising the bar of human potential.”
Among her many accomplishments, Johnson did trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s 1961 mission Freedom 7, which was America’s first human spaceflight. Her efforts were also instrumental in the first American orbital spaceflight, piloted by John Glenn.
As portrayed in "Hidden Figures," Johnson faced segregation in Jim Crow-era Virginia, where NASA's Langley Research Center was located.
At the 89th Academy Awards, when Johnson took the stage alongside “Hidden Figures” stars Janelle Monáe, Octavia Spencer and Henson, the group received a standing ovation.
Last year, she was awarded a Congressional Gold Medal for her service as a mathematician.
She will be missed.