HAMPTON, Va. (February 25, 2020) – The Hampton University family is deeply saddened by the passing of NASA trailblazer Katherine Goble Johnson, one of the leading inspirations behind the Hollywood feature film “Hidden Figures.” Johnson was the keynote speaker and delivered a powerful message to the Hampton University graduating class at the 147th Commencement Address in 2017. “You got it made graduating from Hampton,” she said. “People already know that you know a lot of information and they will use it and use it well.” Johnson was 101 years old.
“On behalf of the entire Hampton University family, I want to extend our deepest sympathies to Katherine G. Johnson’s family during this difficult time,” said Hampton University President, Dr. William R. Harvey. “Katherine Johnson was one of the finest mathematical minds in the country and her legacy of excellence will not soon be forgotten.”
Considered to be one of NASA's human 'computers,' Johnson performed the complex calculations that enabled humans to successfully achieve space flight. In 1961, Johnson was tasked with plotting the path for Alan Shepard's journey to space, the first in American history. Johnson was later responsible for verifying calculations of the "machines" and giving the "go-ahead" to propel John Glenn into successful orbit in 1962.
Johnson was honored with an array of awards for her groundbreaking work. Among them are the 1967 NASA Lunar Orbiter Spacecraft and Operations team award, and the National Technical Association’s designation as its 1997 Mathematician of the Year. On Nov. 24, 2015, Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, from President Barack Obama.
In 2017, NASA dedicated a building in her honor, the Katherine G. Johnson Computational Research Facility, at its Langley Research Center in Hampton.
Johnson earned a B.S. degree in mathematics and French from West Virginia State College. In 1999, that university named Johnson "Outstanding Alumnus of the Year."