TRAILBLAZING NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson has died aged 101.
Johnson was one of several black women whose work was instrumental in enabling the US to send an astronaut into space for the first time.
She also played a pivotal role in the US’s moon landings.
In a statement announcing her death, Nasa said: “We’re saddened by the passing of celebrated Hidden Figures mathematician Katherine Johnson. Today, we celebrate her 101 years of life and honour her legacy of excellence that broke down racial and social barriers.”
The 2016 film Hidden Figures shone a light on her ground-breaking work, and how she overcame the racial discrimination and sexism she faced.
Until the film’s release, Johnson’s contributions and those made by her colleagues and fellow black mathematicians Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and Dr Christine Darden, also depicted in Hidden Figures, had been widely ignored.
Taraji P Henson, who portrayed Johnson in Hidden Figures, shared a tribute to the legendary mathematician on Instagram.
She wrote: “Thank you queen Katherine Johnson for sharing your intelligence, poise, grace and beauty with the world! Because of your hard work little girls everywhere can dream as big as the moon! Your legacy will live on forever and ever! You ran so we could fly! I will forever be honored to have been apart of bringing your story to life. You/your story was hidden and thank God you are hidden no more. God bless your beautiful family. I am so honored to have sat and broke bread with you all. My thoughts and prayers are with you!”
In 2015, aged 97, Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the US, by Barack Obama.
Last year Nasa renamed one of its facilities in West Virginia, Johnson’s birthplace, after her.
At the time, Capito, which sponsored the legislation that led to the name change, said: “It is fitting that the only NASA facility in West Virginia be named after a West Virginia native who became a pioneer in space exploration, but this rededication is about so much more than that.
“Katherine Johnson’s is not just a name on this building. Her work also made what they do inside the building possible.”