Condolences Pour In After Katherine Johnson Passes Away

Condolences Pour In After Katherine Johnson Passes Away

Condolences are pouring in for the family and friends of Katherine Johnson, who died today at the age of 101.  She won fame in recent years for her previously unheralded work as a human computer during the early days of NASA’s human spaceflight program — one of the African American women now known as the “Hidden Figures.”

Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas)

Among the members of Congress expressing condolences was Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), the first African American and the first woman to chair the House Science, Space, and Technology (SS&T) Committee. She cited Katherine Johnson’s accomplishments as fundamental to the United States winning the Space Race.

“Today we mourn the loss of an American hero and a pioneer for women and African Americans in STEM fields. Katherine Johnson played a pivotal role in the outcome of the space race during her 35-year career at NASA and its predecessor, NACA. Without her accomplishments and those of her fellow Hidden Figures, which went largely unrecognized until the last decade, the outcome of the Space Race may have been quite different. Her achievements and impacts on our country are great, and her loss will be felt by many. I send my heartfelt condolences to her loved ones and colleagues.”  Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson

Rep. Johnson and Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), the top Republican on the committee, co-sponsored legislation honoring her with the Congressional Gold Medal last year.  Lucas said today that the achievements of Johnson and the other Hidden Figures were all that more remarkable because of the challenges they faced as women and minorities.

“I was saddened to hear of Katherine Johnson’s passing. … We’ve lost a pioneer and a pivotal mind behind America’s success in the Space Race. Her work was crucial to the success of John Glenn’s first orbit of the Earth. The achievements of Katherine and the other Hidden Figures of the Space Race were all the more impressive given the challenges they faced as women and minorities. I’m so glad that Chairwoman Johnson and I were able to introduce and pass a law to honor her with the Congressional Gold Medal last year. Her legacy will live on at NASA and for generations of Americans inspired by her to pursue careers in STEM.” — Rep. Frank Lucas

Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the White House National Space Council, added his own condolences.

Just last week while visiting NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA, where Johnson worked, as part of Black History Month Pence honored her as “a truly great American pioneer” and acknowledged her daughters who were in the audience.

Katherine Johnson’s daughters, Joylette Hick and Kathy Moore, at NASA Langley Research Center, February 19, 2020, where Vice President Pence acknowledged their mother’s pioneering work at the Center in the 1960s. Snip from NASA TV.

Former President Barack Obama, who presented Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, tweeted that she had become a hero to millions, including him and his wife, Michelle.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and others at NASA also praised her work.

Former NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden, the first African American to hold that job, issued several tweets including these.

Those are a small fraction of the comments today from military and civil space officials including Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett and Chief of Space Operations Gen. Jay Raymond, space organizations like the Space Foundation, and many, many others.  Newspapers including the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Washington Times and USA Today published obituaries.

The story of Johnson’s work at NASA’s Langley Research Center in the early 1960s as a mathematician computing trajectories for space missions including those of the first American in space, Alan Shepard, and the first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn, was told in the book Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly.  That book was the basis for the movie by the same name starring Taraji P. Henson.  Both also highlighted the work of other African American women “computers” in the early years of the space program including Dorothy Vaughn and Mary Jackson.

Shetterly tweeted her own tribute.

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