Feb 24, 2020 - Science

NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, depicted in "Hidden Figures," dies at 101

NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson (C) with producer Caroline Waterlow (L) and director Ezra Edelman (R) of "Hidden Figures." Photo: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson, whose calculations helped astronauts reach orbit and eventually land on the Moon, died Monday at 101.

Why it matters: Her work, dramatized in the 2016 film "Hidden Figures," helped to create some of the agency's core mathematical principles behind manned space travel.

  • While she wasn't the first black woman to work as a NASA mathematician, her barrier-breaking story was key in recognizing the achievements that African American scientists contributed to spaceflight during the 1960s.

The big picture: Johnson's work "was overshadowed in the popular imagination by the life-risking astronauts whose flights she calculated, and to a lesser extent by the department heads under whom she served," the Washington Post writes.

  • Former President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015.
  • She downplayed the importance of her role in the early years of the space program after the release of "Hidden Figures," telling the Post in 2017 that she was "just doing [her] job."

The bottom line, via the lead sentence of the New York Times' obituary: "They asked Katherine Johnson for the Moon, and she gave it to them."

Go deeper: Why an all-female spacewalk took so long

Go deeper

NASA selects experiments to fly aboard its Gateway space station

Artist's illustration of the Gateway. Photo: NASA

Two experiments designed to monitor the space environment will eventually orbit the Moon on NASA's small Gateway space station.

Why it matters: The experiments will keep an eye on the radiation environment in lunar orbit in order to help scientists learn how to keep astronauts safe as they explore deep space.

Go deeperArrowMar 17, 2020 - Science

Applications are now open to become a NASA astronaut

Photo: NASA

Applications are now open for every fifth grader's dream job: NASA astronaut.

Why it matters: The space agency doesn't put out a call for new astronauts unless they have a need to fill.

Go deeperArrowMar 3, 2020 - Science

The story behind Ron Johnson's stock sale

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Staff

Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) was one of several senators who came under fire last week after disclosing that they had sold large amounts of stock just before large swaths of the American economy shut down due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The big picture: Many of Johnson's colleagues should indeed be scrutinized by the SEC and/or the Department of Justice, but Johnson himself hasn't done anything worthy of investigation.