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Katherine Johnson, NASA mathematician who inspired "Hidden Figures," dies at age 101

Pioneering NASA mathematician dies at 101

NASA pioneer Katherine Johnson died Monday at the age of 101, the space agency announced. Johnson, whose calculations played a key role in the Apollo 11 moon landing, earned nationwide acclaim decades later when her story was told in the book and movie "Hidden Figures."

"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," NASA tweeted.

Johnson was famously depicted by actress Taraji P. Henson in the 2016 Oscar-nominated film "Hidden Figures," which told the stories of the black women whose crucial contributions made America's triumph in the space race possible.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine paid tribute to Johnson Monday, saying the NASA family will never forget her courage. "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 Monday.

Johnson was a public champion of STEM education (courses in science, technology, engineering and mathematics), and she became one of NASA's most inspirational figures. Bridenstine said 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."

Johnson was born in 1918. After attending graduate school and working as a public school teacher, she joined what is now known as NASA's Langley Research Center in 1953, according to NASA. 
At NASA, Johnson calculated the trajectory of Alan Shepard's 1961 space flight, and verified the numbers guiding John Glenn's orbit. In 1969, she helped the Apollo program land men on the moon. 

Katherine Johnson, NASA mathematician, celebrates 100th birthday

In 2016, Johnson told CBS News' Jan Crawford she got the courage from her father's motto. 

"You're as good as anybody here," she remarked. "You're no worse. You're no better."

She retired in 1986. 

Johnson's achievements were documented in the book "Hidden Figures," which later became the popular movie. In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded her the nation's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Katherine Johnson receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom
US President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to NASA mathematician and physicist Katherine Johnson at the White House in Washington, D.C., on November 24, 2015.  Getty

Mr. Obama paid tribute Monday, writing: "After a lifetime of reaching for the stars, today, Katherine Johnson landed among them. She spent decades as a hidden figure, breaking barriers behind the scenes. But by the end of her life, she had become a hero to millions — including Michelle and me."

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