Pioneering black NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson dies at 101

89th Annual Academy Awards- Press Room

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Nasa mathematician Katherine Johnson, who was the inspiration for film Hidden Figures, has died at the age of 101.

'At NASA we will never forget her courage and leadership and the milestones we could not have reached without her.

But Johnson is perhaps best known for her work calculating the equations that would safely launch John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth, into space.

The esteemed mathematician was featured in the 2016 film "Hidden Figures", which told the story of a group of African-American women whose contributions were integral to NASA's initial space missions. In 2015, President Barack Obama presented her, at the age of 97, with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America's highest civilian award.

At the Oscars in February 2017, Johnson joined the stars of Hidden Figures onstage and received a standing ovation.

"From honorary doctorates to the 1967 NASA Lunar Orbiter Spacecraft and Operations team award (for pioneering work in the field of navigation problems supporting the five spacecraft that orbited and mapped the moon in preparation for the Apollo program) Katherine Johnson has led a life positively littered with honors", NASA writes. She initially became a teacher but, in 1953, took a job at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics - the agency that would become NASA.

A West Virginia native and previously "hidden figure" in the USA space race whose key mathematical contributions to NASA became more publicly known later in her life with help from the book and movie "Hidden Figures" has died.

In 2016, NASA named a research facility for Johnson in her hometown of Hampton, Virginia, and a year later her alma mater, West Virginia State, marked her 100th birthday in August 2018 by establishing a scholarship in her name and erecting a statue.

Octavia Spencer played Dorothy Vaughan and Janelle Monáe depicted Mary Jackson, the other two women who were the brains of the operation. He reportedly had doubts about the accuracy of the calculations of his orbital trajectory by the agency's computers and asked Johnson to do her own calculations for comparison.

Hidden Figures follows Johnson as she endured racial inequality while double-checking the calculations for astronaut John Glenn's successful orbit into space. The tribute video NASA Langley Research Center posted to its YouTube channel gives a rundown of a number of her most significant achievements.

Johnson was born in White Sulpher Springs, W. Va. She zipped through the school's math program, earning degrees in math and French before becoming one of the first black students in the graduate school at West Virginia University in 1938.

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"I think the most important aspect of her life was that she did open that door and with her loss today that door isn't closed", Odom said.

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