Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson © Kris Connor/WireImage/Getty Images
Katherine Johnson was a mathematician who worked on NASA’s early space missions and was portrayed by Taraji P Henson in the film Hidden Figures. She died in 2020 at the age of 101.
She was one of the “computers” who solved equations by hand during NASA’s early years and those of its precursor organization, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics.
Johnson and other black women initially worked in a racially segregated computing unit in Hampton, Virginia, that was not officially dissolved until NACA became NASA in 1958. Signs had dictated which toilets the women could use.