Katherine Johnson, the pioneering African-American mathematician who helped get NASA astronauts to the moon, has died at 101.
Johnson calculated rocket trajectories and Earth orbits for Nasa’s Gemini missions, which paved the way for the later Apollo missions which included the first men to land on the moon.
In the tweet announcing her passing, NASA celebrated her life’s work saying it was her “her legacy of excellence that broke down racial and social barriers”.
We’re saddened by the passing of celebrated #HiddenFigures mathematician Katherine Johnson. Today, we celebrate her 101 years of life and honor her legacy of excellence that broke down racial and social barriers: https://t.co/Tl3tsHAfYB pic.twitter.com/dGiGmEVvAW
— NASA (@NASA) February 24, 2020
Johnson checked all the calculations made by new electronic computers before US astronaut John Glenn’s orbit around the Earth in 1962. This was despite it being faster, the computers doing the calculations were new technology, and were not implicitly trusted.
“You could do much more, much faster on computer,” Johnson said. “But when they went to computers, they called over and said, ‘tell her to check and see if the computer trajectory they had calculated was correct.’ So I checked it and it was correct.”
She had previously calculated the trajectory for the space flight of Alan Shepard – the first American in space. She later helped calculate the trajectory for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon.
“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 colour in the universal human quest to explore space,”Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.
“Her dedication and skill as a mathematician helped put humans on the Moon and before that made it possible for our astronauts to take the first steps in space that we now follow on a journey to Mars.”