The great Katherine Johnson has died at the venerable age of 101. Born to a black working class family in West Virginia in 1918, Johnson found herself with both extraordinary maths skills from very early on, and a society prejudiced against her using them. Case in point, her family had to save to send her to a high school in a different part of the state, as there was no education for black people in Greenbrier County past the age of 9 in those days. Despite this, she qualified for college aged 14, became the first black woman to attend West Virginia University, and became a research mathematician. In 1952, she joined NASA. She then fought her way up the ladder, before becoming an aerospace technologist in 1958. In this role, she became acclaimed for her understanding of orbital mechanics, and proved indispensable to the US space race, with her providing the route home from several Apollo flights, including the first moon landing.
Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, and living long enough to see herself played in a biopic (Hidden Figures in 2016), Katherine Johnson was a pioneer and a mathematical genius, and her spot in history will remain.
Johnson was a pick for Groblers Stiff Ones, and Thomas Jefferson Survives’s NASA theme team, Decaying Orbit-uaries. A joker there, and a joker for If He’s So Smart, How Come He’s Dead?
26 August 1918 – 24 February 2020