Katherine Johnson: NASA's 'Hidden Figures' mathematician who helped put man in space dies, age 101

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Sejal Karia

Katherine Johnson, a pioneering mathematician who worked on NASA's early space missions, has died aged 101.

The news was confirmed by the space agency in a tweet on Monday afternoon.

The organisation said it would remembering Johnson by celebrating "her 101 years of life and honour her legacy of excellence that broke down racial and social barriers".

Johnson was one of the so-called "computers" who helped calculate rocket trajectories and Earth orbits in the early days of the Space age.

Katherine Johnson during her time at NASA (left) and again in 2014. Credit: NASA / AP

Prior to working for NASA, in 1939 she became one of the first black students to attend West Virgina University, which was previously segregated.

Until 1958, Johnson and other black women worked in a racially-segregated computing unit at what is now called Langley Research Centre in Hampton, Virginia.

Their work was the focus of the Oscar-nominated 2016 film, Hidden Figures.

Katherine Johnson worked to help put the first man into Space. Credit: NASA

Her work at NASA initially focused on airplanes and other research but eventually shifted to Project Mercury, the nation’s first human space program.

"Our office computed all the trajectories," Johnson told The Virginian-Pilot newspaper in 2012.

"You tell me when and where you want it to come down, and I will tell you where and when and how to launch it."

In 1961, Johnson did trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 Mission, the first to carry an American into space.

The next year, she manually verified the calculations of a nascent NASA computer, an IBM 7090, which plotted John Glenn’s orbits around the planet.

Four years ago, at the age of 97, Johnson received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honour.