Feb. 26, 2020

Katherine Johnson (1918 – 2020), an American mathematician whose calculations of orbital mechanics as a NASA employee were critical to the success of the first and subsequent U.S. crewed spaceflights, passed away.


  • Her work was fundamental in enabling Apollo 11 to land on the moon in 1969. Before Apollo 11, Johnson calculated the trajectory of Alan Shepherd’s 1961 trip to space. Her calculations were also essential to the beginning of the Space Shuttle program.

  • NASA noted her "historical role as one of the first African-American women to work as a NASA scientist".

  • In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 2019, Johnson was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

  • The 2016 Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures tells the stories of Johnson, Vaughan and Mary Jackson.