Famed NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson passed away on Monday (Feb. 24) at 101 years old. She was depicted in the 2016 film Hidden Figures by Taraji P. Henson.
“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,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine wrote in a statement. “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. 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. Her Presidential Medal of Freedom was a well-deserved recognition.”
“At NASA we will never forget her courage and leadership and the milestones we could not have reached without her,” the statement continued. “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 on human potential.”
During Johnson’s 35-year career at NASA and its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, she contributed calculations of orbital mechanics that were critical to America’s first human spaceflights. Her pivotal work included the Project Mercury spaceflights, paths for the Apollo Lunar Module, the Space Shuttle Program, mission to Mars and more. She was also the first woman credited as an author of a research report during her work with Ted Skopinski on orbital spaceflight equations.
Hidden Figures’ Octavia Spencer, who was nominated for an Oscar for her role as mathematician Dorothy Vaughan in the film, remembered Johnson on Instagram.
“So sad to hear that we’ve lost [Katherine Johnson] a pioneer who contributed so much to humanity!” she wrote. “It was an honor to be apart of telling her story and feeling the impact that her legacy has had on future women in STEM.”
See more tributes to Johnson and her profound legacy on Twitter below.