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.
Katherine Johnson broke barriers of race and gravity. She helped humanity reach for space and touch the moon.— Rep. Val Demings (@RepValDemings) February 24, 2020
She opened the wonders of the universe to every little girl who dreams of the night sky.
When you look at the stars tonight, remember her. #BlackHistoryMonth #BHM pic.twitter.com/2tnq4AW0LI
"We will always have STEM with us. Some things will drop out of the public eye and will go away, but there will always be science, engineering and technology. And there will always, always be mathematics."— NASA STEM Engagement (@NASASTEM) February 24, 2020
Katherine Johnson, 1918-2020 pic.twitter.com/Vkp0MgfwtH
She not only paved the way for many of our Brothers and Sisters in the STEM industry but also paved the way to the stars themselves.— Iyanla Vanzant (@IyanlaVanzant) February 24, 2020
May we never forget that there are many more people of color who are pursuing this field because of Katherine Johnson.https://t.co/4Ztk4aX0cO
Rest in Power Ms. Katherine Johnson. While it took decades for her to get her roses and accolades, we can be heartened that she got them while she could still smell them. https://t.co/48qThJDkrY— BlackWomenViews (@blackwomenviews) February 24, 2020
I’m so grateful that she got her flowers when she was alive, even though it took a lifetime. Thank you, Katherine Johnson.— brittany packnett cunningham (@MsPackyetti) February 24, 2020
Black girls can do anything. Rest in the power you gave us. https://t.co/vClJu5bRRU
Our @NASA family is sad to learn the news that Katherine Johnson passed away this morning at 101 years old. She was an American hero and her pioneering legacy will never be forgotten. https://t.co/UPOqo0sLfb pic.twitter.com/AgtxRnA89h— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) February 24, 2020
Katherine Johnson outsmarted, outworked, and hustled her way into the @NASA boys club. I know a thing or two about being the only person of color in a room—and it takes tenacity. Rest in peace, Katherine, your legacy lives on in generations of STEM women of color. pic.twitter.com/wRlrdRccAM— Jaime Harrison (@harrisonjaime) February 24, 2020
We've lost an icon and brilliant mathematician with the passing of Katherine Johnson.— Kamala Harris (@SenKamalaHarris) February 24, 2020
A barrier breaker and inspiration for women of color everywhere, Katherine's legendary work with NASA will forever leave a mark on our history. My heart goes out to her family and loved ones. https://t.co/rc0qOHOZWZ