By Sarah Richardson
Legendary mathematician and White Sulphur Springs native Katherine Coleman Johnson passed away this week at 101. Johnson worked for NASA for over 30 years, up until 1986, using her math and computer
skills to further mankind’s exploration of space. She was known as a “human computer” and calculated the paths that spacecraft took as they orbited Earth and ultimately landed on the moon.
Johnson was the recipient of many honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor. After the 2016 release of the film “Hidden Figures,” which follows the story of three African-American women who were crucial in the early years of NASA’s space program, she gained national notoriety and recognition for her years of dedicated work.
After receiving news of her passing, former President Barack Obama said, “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.”
U.S. Senator Shelly Moore Capito added, “When I talk about female role models in my West Virginia Girls Rise Up program, Katherine Johnson immediately comes to mind. Katherine’s life was dedicated in service to others. As an African American woman, Katherine broke barriers not only within NASA but also as a leader in STEM fields. For far too long, her work was hidden behind the accomplishments of the men she put on the moon. But Katherine’s work is hidden no more. Today, her legacy lives on at West Virginia’s only NASA facility, the Katherine Johnson IV&V Facility. Katherine’s story of perseverance and dedication will continue to inspire future generations of students, scientists, engineers, and women.”
Senator Joe Manchin said in part, “Because of the accomplishments of intellectual leaders like Katherine Johnson, more young women have, and will, blaze their own trails in science, technology, engineering, and math fields, and will continue to make our state and entire nation proud. We cannot thank Katherine enough for her contributions to our state and our nation.”