Katherine Johnson, the NASA mathematician who helped pave the way for the first American astronaut to successfully orbit the Earth, died on Monday morning at the age of 101.

Hired by NASA in 1953 after working as a teacher, Johnson calculated the trajectory for Alan Shepard, the first American in space, before electronic computers were in use. The key roles played by Johnson and other African-American women at NASA were even highlighted in the 2016 film Hidden Figures, indicating the huge influence that she had on such a huge milestone in history.

Katherine Johnson NASA photo

Image by NASA (source)

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said: "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. 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."

As well as her massive contributions to human spaceflight, Johnson was a champion of STEM education and a trailblazer in the quest for equality - paving the way for fellow women and African Americans now working in STEM. Reminiscing on her time working at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), Johnson said: "The women did what they were told to do. They didn't ask questions or take the task any further. I asked questions; I wanted to know why. They got used to me asking questions and being the only woman there."

It was this inquisitive nature that made Johnson a valuable resource to her team and the only woman at the time to ever be pulled from the computing pool to work on other programmes.

During her time at NASA, Johnson received several prestigious awards, including the NASA Lunar Orbiter Award and three NASA Special Achievement Awards. She was also named Mathematician of the Year in 1997 by the National Technical Association. She strove to push more students into STEM, saying: "We will always have STEM with us. Some things will drop out of the public eye and will go away, but there will always be science, engineering and technology. And there will always, always be mathematics. Everything is physics and math."

Just like Katherine Johnson, we at Hyper Recruitment Solutions believe that diversity in STEM is crucial to the advancement of the industry. STEM work is critical to all sorts of fields, including medicine, transport and computing - it's at the very heart of modern life, and if diversity continues to fall short, so will the number of qualified people needed to fill crucial roles.

Read our blog posts to learn more about diversity and the gender gap in STEM:

Diversity in STEM >   Gender Gap in STEM >

Here at Hyper Recruitment Solutions, we strive to place the most talented individuals into roles where they can make the biggest impact - whether that's in engineering, science or technology. Regardless of your gender, race or background, if you are interested in working within STEM and you're looking to either kick-start your career or take it to the next level, our team of experienced recruiters can help you.

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