We’ve lost another icon.
“She was an American hero and her pioneering legacy will never be forgotten,” wrote Bridenstine in a tweet.
Johnson was pivotal in calculating trajectories for multiple NASA space missions, including one for the first human spaceflight by an American, Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 mission. She also calculated trajectories for a mission to orbit the earth, carried out by John Glenn’s Friendship 7.
While at NASA, she eventually became the first woman recognized as authoring a report from the Flight Research Division. Much of her work to create pathways for Black women in space and science was covered in the 2016 Oscar-nominated movie, “Hidden Figures”.
The other pioneering women captured in the movie include Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. These two, along with Johnson and Dr. Christine Darden were all honored with a Congressional Gold Medal for their contributions to space exploration back in 2019.
The bill to honor the women was introduced by U.S. Senators Kamala D. Harris, Lisa Murkowski, and Chris Coons. U.S. Representatives Frank Lucas and Eddie Bernice Johnson were also important in bringing this effort to fruition. Both Vaughan and Jackson were honored posthumously.
“Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Dr. Christine Darden made monumental contributions to science and our nation,” explained Senator Harris in a statement. “The groundbreaking accomplishments of these four women, and all of the women who contributed to the success of NASA, helped us win the space race but remained in the dark far too long. I am proud our bill to honor these remarkable women has passed Congress. These pioneers remain a beacon for Black women across the country, both young and old.”
In June 2019, NASA also renamed the street in front of its headquarters “Hidden Figures Way” to honor the legacies of the women and in 2017, NASA opened a computer research center named after Katherine Johnson.
“You have been a trailblazer,” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe told Katherine Johnson during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the research center in Hampton, Virginia. “When I think of Virginia and the history of what we’ve gone through … you’re at the top of that list.” The $23 million, 37,000-square foot facility is supposed to house state of the art computer systems to crunch data and offer expert analysis to help NASA further research space travel.
When Johnson was first doing work with NASA in 1953, she was described as a “human computer” at a time when the machines were at a premium beginning. Along with her other accolades, President Barack Obama awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
The movie “Hidden Figures” was a major success when it hit theaters in 2016. The film starred Taraji P. Henson as Katherine Johnson, Octavia Spencer as Dorothy Vaughan and Janelle Monáe as Mary Jackson. The movie was released on Christmas Day in the United States and it eventually beat “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” at the box office for a week, earning $22.8 million while “Rogue One” made $22.1 million.
According to a report, 43 percent of the ticket buyers for the movie were white and 37 percent were Black. Women made up 64 percent of the audience, while 56 percent of all ticket buyers were 35 or older. When the movie beat out a “Star Wars” flick, Monáe celebrated by writing, “The Force was with us!” The movie achieved its milestone even while screening in less theaters than “Rogue One” (“Hidden Figures” only played in 2,471 theaters while “Rogue One” opened in 4,157 locations, and was atop the chart for three consecutive weeks).
Since Johnson’s death, a few celebrities have honored the icon. Taraji P. Henson wrote:
“Thank you QUEEN #KatherineJohnson 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 FORVER 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 #hiddennomore🚀 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!”
Octavia Spencer also paid tribute, writing:
“So sad to hear that we’ve lost #KatherineJohnson a pioneer who contributed so much to humanity! It was an honor to be apart of telling her story and feeling the impact that her legacy has had on future women in STEM. My thoughts and prayers are with her family.”
RIP Katherine Johnson.