Dorothy Vaughan


Hidden no more! The four women who worked at NASA and inspired the movie Hidden Figures are being awarded with the highest civilian honor in the United States, the Congressional Gold Medal award, reports CNN.

Engineers, Dr. Christine Darden and Mary Jackson, mathematician, Katherine Johnson, and computer programmer, Dorothy Vaughan, who were all instrumental during the NASA Space Race, will receive the award for their contributions, with Vaughan and Jackson receiving theirs posthumously. A fifth gold medal will also be issued in honor of all the women who worked at NASA during the Space Race. 

These women, referred to as “human computers” did the complex calculations necessary to make space travel possible. They helped with World War II aircraft testing, supersonic flight research, Voyager probes to explore the solar system, and were instrumental in helping with the moon man landing of 1969. 

Darden, age 77, began her career as a data analyst at NASA’s Langley Research Center prior to becoming an aerospace engineer. She has published over 50 articles on aeronautics which led to enormous breakthroughs and “revolutionized aerodynamics design.” Jackson, who passed in 2005, was NASA’s first Black female engineer. She worked as an engineer for over two decades before earning the title of “Federal Women’s Program Manager,” where she was tasked with advancing “the prospects of NASA’s female mathematicians, engineers, and scientists.”

Johnson, age 101, provided NASA with calculations that helped them with several missions including the famed Apollo missions. She was the first woman to be acknowledged “as an author of a report from the Flight Research Division.” Vaughan, who passed in 2008, was a computer programmer who led the then segregated West Area Computing unit at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), now known as NASA. 

Senator Kamala Harris introduced the bill to honor the women calling them “pioneers and a beacon for Black women across the country, both young and old.” In a statement released to the press Harris said, “The groundbreaking accomplishments of these four women, and all of the women who contributed to the success of NASA, helped us win the space race but remained in the dark far too long. I am proud our bill to honor these remarkable women has passed Congress.”

It was Margot Lee Shetterly’s 2016 book “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race,” that shined a light on these women. The film adaptation starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae further enhanced the women’s profiles and helped uncover their enormous contributions to the areas of science, math and technology. 

The Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act is endorsed by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the Association for Women in Science, the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, the United Negro College Fund, the Hampton Roads Association for the Study of African American Life and History, the National Congress of Black Women and many more. 

Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson provided pivotal contributions to space flight research from the 1940s through to the 1960s, when the United States first sent men to orbit and then walk on the Moon.

Despite their achievements, all three had to confront the racial segregation of the era.

They were among dozens of African-Americans, both male and female, who worked as mathematicians and physicists for the US space program, even as they were forced to use separate bathrooms from whites, and were barred from the same restaurants and schools frequented by whites.

The trio’s work was largely forgotten until they were profiled in the book “Hidden Figures” decades later by author Margot Lee Shetterly, later adapted into the 2016 blockbuster of the same name.

Shetterly said the decision to ordain Hidden Figures Way honored “the contributions of unseen individuals who were there at the beginning of the story, and whose persistence and courage have delivered us to where we are today.”

“These female mathematicians were doing the heavy lifting in aeronautical research and many, many other fields long before those chunks of electronic circuitry became the defining feature of our life and work,” she said at a Wednesday ceremony outside NASA.

In 2015, Former US President Barack Obama gave Johnson, who is now 100, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.

Jackson and Vaughan died in 2005 and 2008 respectively.

NASA will next month celebrate the 50th anniversary of the successful Apollo 11 mission and humanity’s first Moon landing.

The agency last month announced its plan to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024 through its “Artemis” program — named for the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology.

Credit: pulse.ng