AIAA Mourns the Passing of Pioneering Mathematician Katherine Johnson Written 26 February 2020


CONTACT: Michele McDonald

Willie Mays, right, applauds NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, after she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House, on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015. | Associated Press–©

Movie “Hidden Figures” Celebrated Johnson’s Contributions to Space Exploration

February 26, 2020 – Reston, Va. – NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson’s calculations were so precise that when astronaut John Glenn was preparing for an orbital mission in 1962, he didn’t trust the computers as much as he trusted her calculations done by slide-rule and pencil.

“If she says they’re good,” Katherine Johnson remembers the astronaut saying, “then I’m ready to go.” Glenn’s flight was a success, marking a turning point in the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union in space, according to NASA.

Born in White Sulphur Springs, West Va., Johnson, 101, died on 24 February. The movie “Hidden Figures,” and the book it was based on, told the little-known story of Johnson and a small group of black women mathematicians who worked at NASA.

“A brilliant mathematician, Katherine Johnson’s work helped the United Space launch into space and brought our astronauts safely home,” said Dan Dumbacher, executive director, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA). “Johnson and her team played a crucial role in the successful flights of Alan B. Shepherd and John Glenn. She calculated the trajectories of the Apollo 11 mission. Her influence is beyond measure and continues today.”

Johnson joined NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), in 1953 and retired from NASA in 1986. She won the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.

About AIAA 
The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) is the world’s largest aerospace technical society. With nearly 30,000 individual members from 85 countries, and 95 corporate members, AIAA brings together industry, academia, and government to advance engineering and science in aviation, space, and defense. For more information,, or follow us on Twitter @AIAA.


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