US President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Nasa mathematician Katherine G. Johnson on 24 November, 2015. Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Katherine Johnson was awarded with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015

Pioneering African-American Nasa mathematician Katherine Johnson has died at the age of 101.

Nasa announced her death on Twitter, saying it was celebrating her life and honouring “her legacy of excellence that broke down racial and social barriers”.

Ms Johnson calculated rocket trajectories and Earth orbits for Nasa’s early space missions.

She was portrayed in the 2016 Oscar-nominated film Hidden Figures.

The film tells the story of African-American women whose maths skills helped put US astronaut John Glenn into orbit around the Earth in 1962. Ms Johnson verified the calculations made by new electronic computers before his flight.

Ms Johnson had previously calculated the trajectory for the space flight of Alan Shepard – the first American in space. She also played a key role in sending humans to the Moon.

Image copyright NASA
Image caption Katherine Johnson calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American in space

Nasa administrator Jim Bridenstine described Ms Johnson as “a leader from our pioneering days”.

“Ms Johnson helped our nation enlarge the frontiers of space even as she made huge strides that also opened doors for women and people of colour in the universal human quest to explore space,” he said in a statement.

“Her dedication and skill as a mathematician helped put humans on the Moon and before that made it possible for our astronauts to take the first steps in space that we now follow on a journey to Mars.”

Ms Johnson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. The following year, then US President Barack Obama cited her in his State of the Union address as an example of the country’s spirit of discovery.

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