Katherine Johnson, one of NASA’s black woman “human computers” depicted in the movie Hidden Figures, died at age 101 on Monday.

Johnson’s mathematical skills helped rocket the first American man into orbit in 1962, and land men on the moon in 1969. Her name, along with the names of other black women mathematicians at NASA, stayed largely out of the limelight until the release of the film Hidden Figures in 2016. In the movie she was portrayed by Taraji P. Henson.

NASA announced her death on Twitter:

Johnson was one of the first black women hired by NASA in 1953, which at that point was called the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. She was hired after the defense department passed a law prohibiting racial discrimination in hiring. Although many NASA engineers saw her and the women she worked with as “computers in skirts,” she quickly became integral part of the team, often the only woman in briefings.


The first American man to orbit Earth John Glenn, famously told engineers to “get the girl,” referencing Johnson, so she could check the computer’s calculations before he went into space.

“If she says they’re good, then I’m ready to go,” Johnson remembered Glenn saying. The flight was a success, and marked a turning point for America in the space race against the Soviet Union.

According to NASA, she often said her greatest contribution to space exploration were her calculations that helped sync Project Apollo’s Lunar Module with the lunar-orbiting Command and Service Module, aka helping land the first men on the moon.

Johnson worked at NASA for 33 years, until 1986. In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2017, NASA’s Langley facility in Virginia, where Johnson had worked, opened the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility. In 2019, NASA renamed their Independent Verification and Validation facility after her too.

Many took to Twitter to remember Johnson’s legacy:

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