African-American Nasa mathematician Katherine Johnson passed away last February 24. She was 101 years old.
NASA described her as a pioneer when announcing her death, honoring “her legacy of excellence that broke down racial and social barriers”.
Katherine Johnson (1918-2020)
— NASA (@NASA) February 24, 2020
Johnson was responsible for sending the first American into space and consequently played a significant role in the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union.
Her calculations for rocket trajectories and Earth orbits were instrumental for Nasa’s early space missions. Not only did she calculate the trajectory for US astronaut Alan Shepard – the first American in space – but she also verified the calculations which sent US astronaut John Glenn into orbit around the Earth in 1962.
Johnson also helped calculate the trajectory for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the Moon.
For NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, Johnson will always be “a leader from our pioneering days”.
“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,” he 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.”
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