Catherine Johnson died Monday at the age of 101,media CNET reported. She was remembered as “a NASA mathematician; a pioneer in the search for racial equality; and a contributor to America’s first victory in human space and an advocate of STEM education.” “
NASA Director Jim Bradenstine announced her death. “She is an American hero, and her pioneering legacy will never be forgotten,” Brydonstin wrote. “
As a “human computer,” Johnson is known for examining the numbers of astronaut John Glenn’s 1962 orbital mission. Glenn himself asked Johnson to rerun the computer calculations before launch. This is a pivotal moment in the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Glenn became the first American to enter Earth’s orbit.
Kathleen Johnson, who worked at NASA’s Langley Research Center from 1953 to 1986, was responsible for orbital computing and other tasks that helped make early space missions successful. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
Johnson’s work and deeds became the focus of many attention after the publication of “Hidden People: The American Dream and the Untold Story of Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race” in 2016. The non-fiction book was adapted into the film Hidden Figures.
“When asked about her greatest contribution to space exploration, Catherine Johnson talked about how to synchronize the Apollo lunar lander with the command and service module orbiting the moon,” NASA said in Johnson’s biography. “
In a statement issued by the Presidential Medal of Freedom, NASA quoted Johnson as saying: “I counteverything. I calculated the steps leading to the road, the steps leading to the church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed… probably can calculate everything. I did it. “