Katherine Johnson, one of NASA Langley’s ‘Hidden Figures,’ dies at 101

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HAMPTON, Va. (WAVY) — Katherine Johnson, a pioneering Hampton Roads and American icon featured in the movie “Hidden Figures,” has died at age 101, NASA announced Monday.

“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 said in a statement Monday morning. “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 … we will never forget her courage and leadership and the milestones we could not have reached without her …”

The groundbreaking African-American mathematician worked on complex space missions as a “human computer” for NASA Langley starting in the 1950s, including calculating the trajectories for Alan Shepard’s history-making journey into space, and giving the “go-ahead” for John Glenn’s historic mission into orbit.

Born in August 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, Johnson was often overlooked until the 2016 movie “Hidden Figures,” which highlighted the work and challenges she, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and Dr. Christine Darden faced while working at Langley. Actress Taraji P. Henson portrayed Johnson in the movie.

In 2015, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama, and was chosen in November to receive to the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor presented by Congress.

Johnson sat down with WAVY’s Marielena Balouris last March for our series honoring pioneering women.

Her advice: “Do your best at all times. That’s the best you can do.”

Johnson’s passing means that Dr. Christine Darden is now the only living “Hidden Figure.” Darden, who sat down with WAVY’s Laura in 2018, is 77 and still lives in Hampton Roads.

This breaking article will be updated.

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