Katherine Johnson dies at 101

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BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. (WDTV)-- UPDATE 2/24/2020 @ 9:55 a.m.
There are few West Virginians whose legacies are as profound as Katherine Johnson. Today, she died at the age of 101.

Katherine Johnson | NASA

To call her a pioneer in her field only scratches the surface. After all, one small step for man 50 years ago wouldn’t have happened without her genius.

Her on-the-fly calculations helped put man on the moon.

Her career at NASA earned her the nickname 'The Human Computer.' She sometimes tasked with the job of fact-checking math calculated by machines.

Born in White Sulphur Springs in 1918, Johnson's career led to a plethora of recognitions, including the nation's highest civilian honor.

"In her 33 years at NASA, Katherine was a pioneer who broke the barriers of race and gender," President Obama said before he presented her with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. "Showing generations of young people that everyone can excel in math and science and reach for the stars."

But with every task in front of her, her daughters say she remained focused and humble.

"She was just doing what she loved to do," Johnson's daughter Joylette Hylick told 5 News last year. "When you do that, she said she never worked a day in her life."

Hylick and Katherine Moore, another one of Johnson's daughters, attended last year's ceremony in Fairmont to rename the NASA Independent Verification and Validation (IV&V) Facility after her.

Gregory Blaney is the Director of NASA's IV&V Program.

"To see somebody that smart with that many challenges to overcome during her lifetime, to see her ignore than and just do her job and do it well, it's just inspiring," Blaney said.

Critical work is done there to contribute to NASA's future missions to the moon and beyond.

But they've also expanded their educational outreach programs in recent years.

"What we're trying to do is tell every student in West Virginia - you can work for NASA. You can be another Katherine Johnson," Blaney said. "You can do whatever you want to do. And she proved that."

Johnson couldn't attend the ceremony last summer. But Blaney made a trip to meet her, show her pictures from the day, and thank her for her work at NASA.

"She just looked at me and said, 'Thank you,'" Blaney said of his visit with Johnson. "A 101-year-old woman and all she said was thank you. It was amazing."

Her inspiration reaches far and wide inside Fairmont's NASA facility every day to people who, like Johnson, are just doing their jobs.

"We just have to work hard and deserve her name on our building," Blaney said.


ORIGINAL STORY 2/24/2020 @ 9:55 a.m.
West Virginia icon Katherine Johnson died Monday morning, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced on Twitter. She was 101.

"Our @NASA family is sad to learn the news that Katherine Johnson passed away this morning at 101 years old," Bridenstine wrote on Twitter. "She was an American hero and her pioneering legacy will never be forgotten."

Johnson was born on Aug. 26, 1918 in White Sulphur Springs. She was handpicked to be one of the first black students to attend graduate school at West Virginia University.

Johnson went on to lead a career at NASA where she made history. She made on-the-fly calculations for the Apollo 11 moon landing 50 years ago.

Johnson was portrayed in the movie "Hidden Figures."

In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson with America's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

NASA Independent Verification and Validation Facility in Fairmont was renamed after Johnson in July.