“Thank you QUEEN #KatherineJohnson for sharing your intelligence, poise, grace and beauty with the world!” Henson, 49, began her heartfelt caption. “Because of your hard work little girls EVERYWHERE can dream as big as the MOON!!! Your legacy will live on FORVER (sp.) AND EVER!!! You ran so we could fly!!!”
The actress went on to say she would “forever be honored to have been [a part] of bringing your story to life,” adding, “You/your story was hidden and thank GOD you are #hiddennomore🚀.”
“God bless your beautiful family,” Henson continued. “I am so honored to have sat and broke bread with you all. My thoughts and prayers are with you! #RIHKatherineJohnson #representationmatters 🙏🏾🙏🏾🙏🏾💋💋💋”
Octavia Spencer — who costarred with Henson alongside Janelle Monáe, Mahershala Ali, Kevin Costner, Jim Parsons and Kirsten Dunst, in the adapted film based on a book of the same name — praised Henson’s post, commenting, “Beautiful.”
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Octavia Spencer’s comment
Katherine Johnson (front, center) with Janelle Monáe, Taraji P. Henson and Octavia Spencer
NASA announced the news of Johnson’s death on Monday, writing in a tweet alongside a photo of the NASA icon, “We’re saddened by the passing of celebrated #HiddenFigures mathematician Katherine Johnson. Today, we celebrate her 101 years of life and honor her legacy of excellence that broke down racial and social barriers.”
Johnson was born in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, and studied at West Virginia State College, where she was the first African-American woman to desegregate the graduate school. Johnson, née Coleman, worked for years as a teacher before taking a job with NASA in 1953, where she was nicknamed the “human computer.”
“I like to learn,” the mathematician told PEOPLE in 2016. “That’s an art and a science. I’m always interested in learning something new.”
Johnson went on to play a pivotal role in many of NASA’s first space missions —performing trajectory analysis for America’s first human spaceflight in 1961, and was also the first woman in the Flight Research Division to get credit as an author of a research report one year earlier, according to her NASA biography.
Katherine Johnson in 2015
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One of her most memorable contributions, though, came in 1962, when Johnson helped crunch the numbers that would control the trajectory for astronaut John Glenn (played by Glen Powell in Hidden Figures) during his orbital mission, making sure the IBM computer calculations were correct.
“‘If [Katherine] says they’re good, then I’m ready to go,’” Johnson recalled Glenn, who died in 2016 at the age of 95, saying, according to her biography.
Before retiring from NASA in 1986, Johnson coauthored 26 research reports and worked on the Space Shuttle and the Earth Resources Satellite, according to the agency. She also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2015.
“I will always be grateful for her,” Johnson’s daughter, Katherine, told PEOPLE in 2016 of her mother.