Mathematician and NASA legend Katherine Johnson died at the age of 101, reports the New York Times . As the inspiration for the film 2016 Hidden Figures Johnson was best known for calculating the equations that sent the first astronauts to the moon and, as a black woman, broke through science and technology barriers during the civil rights era.  Katherine Johnson's talent for numbers was evident from an early age. She was born on August 26, 1918 in White Sulfur Springs, West Virginia, and enrolled in second grade as soon as she was old enough to go to school. She graduated from college with summa cum laude at the age of 1
In the 1950s, NASA hired Johnson as one of the "computers" for women tasked with entering the numbers. It was crucial to getting missions going. She was personally responsible for confirming the equations that put astronaut John Glenn into orbit in 1962. After asking Johnson to check the computer's math by hand, he reportedly said, “If she says they're good, I'm ready to go. “
Her biggest job was working on the Apollo 11 mission. Johnson worked closely with NASA engineers to calculate when and where to launch the first manned shuttle to the moon. He was fully aware that even a small mistake could lead to a national tragedy. The first astronauts landed on the moon on July 20, 1969, thanks in part to their computing power.
As a black woman who worked in a mainly male-dominated field in the 1960s, Johnson's contributions to space history were not recognized for years. She lived long enough to become one of the few marginalized figures in science and to earn some, if overdue, awards. In 2015, President Barack Obama Johnson awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and in 2016 her work at NASA was featured in the Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures . Johnson also cultivated a love of knowledge throughout her life, completing her PhD more than 75 years after graduating from West Virginia University.
Johnson died on the morning of February 24, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said on Twitter . He said in the announcement: "She was an American heroine and her pioneering legacy will never be forgotten."
[h/t The New York Times]