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Katherine Johnson, Famed NASA Icon, Dies at 101

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Feb. 24, 2020 -- Mathematician, icon, and hero to many, Katherine Johnson was truly a trailblazer.

Born in 1918 in West Virginia, Johnson would go on to break barriers as a woman and as an African American. Brilliant at math, she became one of the first living "computers” NASA hired to help with meticulous calculations needed in a world where actual computers were rare, huge, and slow.

She was hired to be part of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA, and eventually the Space Task Force. In those early days of the U.S. space program, calculations of space flight were done by hand. Johnson calculated Alan Shepard’s 1961 space flight, the country’s first.

The work that she and others of Langley’s “computers” did was chronicled in the bestselling book Hidden Figures, which later became an Oscar-nominated film.

President Barack Obama awarded Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.

Johnson died Monday at age 101.

WebMD Health News Brief Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on February 24, 2020
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