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Four of NASA’s “hidden figures,” together with all of the women who contributed to the agency’s success in the space race to the moon, will be honored with the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the highest civilian awards in the United States.
President Donald Trump signed into law the Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act on November 8th.
Engineers Chrsitine Darden and Mary Jackson, alongside computer programmer Dorothy Vaughan and mathematician Katherine Johnson were awarded the medals. A fifth medal was bestowed on NASA to all remaining women who contributed during the Space Race. Vaughan, who died in 2008, and Jackson, who died in 2005, will receive the medals posthumously.
“These 4 women, along with the other African American women in NASA’s West Area Computing unit, were integral to the success of the early space program,” the bill reads.
This group of women worked in NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia. They were the brains behind the operation, being called the human computers who did the calculations necessary to make space travel possible. Not only did they help get the first man on the moon in 1969, but they played important roles in World War II aircraft testing, supersonic flight research, and sending the Voyager probes to explore the solar system.
“This is an exciting opportunity to honor the pioneering generation of female mathematicians for their commitment and service to NASA and to our country,” said Margot Lee Shetterly, author of “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race,” in a statement issued by the House after the act passed in September. “The women who did this work came from across our country and each of their hometowns should embrace them as heroes.”
Shetterly’s book served as the basis for the 2016 feature film “Hidden Figures,” which dramatized the experiences of Johnson, Vaughan and Jackson.
Presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) applauded the bill after it passed in the House last month.
“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,” she wrote. “I am proud our bill to honor these remarkable women has passed Congress. These pioneers remain a beacon for Black women across the country, both young and old.”