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Woman who inspired 'Hidden Figures' celebrates 100th b'day

CENTENARIAN: Katherine Johnson

KATHERINE JOHNSON, the inspiring mathematician at NASA's Langley Research Centre in Virginia who helped make human spaceflight possible — and one of the women who's story was told in the hit movie Hidden Figures - celebrated her 100th birthday last weekend (Aug 26).

Johnson began her career at NASA alongside a team of black women who were also referred to as "human computers." and were the focus of Hidden Figures starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae.

The women broke down barriers as African-American women in a predominately white, male-dominated field, overcoming anti-black prejudice and sexism at the time.

NASA honored Johnson on her birthday and reminded the world of her contributions to human spaceflight.

"Wishing a #happybirthday to Katherine G Johnson on her 100th birthday today,” Nasa’s official history office wrote in a tweet. “She worked at @NASA_Langley as a human computer starting in 1953. Her calculations were critical to our early human spaceflight programme (you've probably seen that in the movies).”

A number of women doing incredible work at NASA expressed how Johnson's work inspired them along the way. "She opened the doors for the rest of us," said Julie Williams-Byrd, Langley's acting chief technologist.

On Saturday, a day before her 100th birthday, Ms Johnson, who graduated with degrees in both Maths and French, attended a ceremony West Virginia State University, where a new statue of her was unveiled and a scholarship in her name announced.

“What makes Katherine so extraordinary is she not only prevailed while segregation failed, Dr Johnson has continued to persevere and thrive with the gracious poise and clarity that defies mere words of explanation, let alone definition,” said Yvonne Cagle, life sciences directorate at the Johnson Space Centre, according to the Charleston Gazette-Mail.

“So what can you say after a century about someone like Dr Katherine Coleman Goble Johnson - our very own global, global genius? Let’s see - you say nothing. You don’t say anything. You listen.”

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