Former US president Barack Obama has paid tribute to Nasa mathematician Katherine Johnson, who died on Monday morning at the age of 101.
Johnson was one of the black women who played a crucial role in landing Nasa’s Apollo 11 to the moon in 1969. She worked at Nasa’s Flight Research Division as a mathematician for more than three decades, but remained a hidden figure, reports New York Times.
In 2015, Johnson was awarded a presidential medal of freedom by Obama for her role at the space agency.
The former president shared a picture from the ceremony, saying “after a lifetime of reaching for the stars, today, Katherine Johnson landed among them”.
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. pic.twitter.com/isG29nwBiB
— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) February 24, 2020
The 1969 mission was not the only time Johnson proved herself to be one of the best minds in mathematics. According to BBC, her impeccable calculations helped put US astronaut John Glenn into orbit around the Earth in 1962.
She previously calculated trajectory for the first American in space, Alan Shepard, in 1961.
Had it not been for Johnson, Glenn would not have carried out the 1969 mission, as he refused to fly until she verified the calculations.
Nasa released a statement on Monday, saying: “At Nasa, we will never forget her courage and leadership, and the milestones we could not have reached without her. We will continue building on her legacy and work tirelessly to increase opportunities for everyone who has something to contribute towards the ongoing work of raising the bar of human potential.”
Johnson was celebrated in 2016 in the film, Hidden Figures.
Actress Taraji P Henson portrayed her. She took to Instagram on Monday to thank Johnson for her inspirational journey and contribution at Nasa.