Katherine Johnson, a mathematician who calculated rocket trajectories and earth orbits for NASA’s early space missions and was later portrayed in the 2016 hit film “Hidden Figures,” about pioneering Black female aerospace workers, passed away this year of natural causes at a retirement community in Newport News, Virginia. Johnson was one of the “computers” who solved equations by hand during NASA’s early years and those of its precursor organization, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. Johnson and other Black women initially worked in a racially segregated computing unit in Hampton, Virginia, that wasn’t officially dissolved until NACA became NASA in 1958. But her work at NASA’s Langley Research Center eventually shifted to Project Mercury, the nation’s first human space program. 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. Johnson considered her work on the Apollo moon missions to be her greatest contribution to space exploration. Her calculations helped the lunar lander rendezvous with the orbiting command service module. She also worked on the Space Shuttle program before retiring in 1986. Johnson and her co-workers had been relatively unsung heroes of America’s Space Race. But in 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson — then 97 — the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.