NASA women scientists that inspired 'Hidden Figures' to be awarded Congressional Gold Medals

Another medal will be awarded to all women who worked as computers, mathematicians and engineers during the space race.


Four African-American women — Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Christine Darden — on whom the 2016-Hollywood movie ‘Hidden Figures’ was based on, will be receiving Congressional Gold Medals. They are being honoured for their contribution to NASA and for paving the way for other women, especially black women to follow.

The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award in the US and is presented to people who have 'performed an achievement that has had an impact on American history and culture that is likely to be recognized in the recipient’s field for years to come.'

A bill was introduced to honour these women with the medals and on Friday, the Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act was passed.

The four Africa-American women who will be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal as part of the Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act.

Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson will be awarded the medal posthumously. As part of the Act, another medal will be awarded to all the women who worked as human computers, mathematicians and engineers in NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia from the 1930s to 1970s.

Katherine Johnson, who is 101 years old, had helped calculate the trajectories of many of NASA’s space missions, including the first human spaceflight by Alan Shephard on the Freedom 7 mission.

Mary Jackson, who died in 2005, became the first African-American engineer at NASA. She petitioned the City of Hampton to let her take math and physics classes at an all-white high school so that she could qualify to become an engineer. She also helped improve the prospects of the other women mathematicians, engineers and scientists working in NASA.

On of the women of the Hidden Figures Act — Katherine Johnson. Image credit: Wikipedia

One of the women of the Hidden Figures Act — Katherine Johnson. Image credit: Wikipedia

Jackson’s efforts paid off when Christine Darden became a NASA engineer when she was 16 years old. She helped to revolutionise aeronautics designs and became the first African-American to be given the post of Senior Executive Service at Langley.

Dorothy Vaughan was the first African-American supervisor at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) which later became the NASA we know today. She headed the West Areas Computing unit for nine years. She also worked at NASA’s Analysis and Computation Division as a programmer in FORTRAN, a programming language. She passed away in 2008.

The bipartisan bill was introduced by US Senators Kamala D Harris, Chris Coons, and Lisa Murkowski, and US Representatives Eddie Bernice Johnson and Frank Lucas and US President Donald Trump signed the bill making it an Act.

Harris, in a statement, 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 honour these remarkable women has passed Congress. These pioneers remain a beacon for Black women across the country, both young and old,” with regard to the new act and on the contribution of these inspiring women.

The Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act is endorsed by Girl Scouts of the USA, American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, American Physical Society, Association for Women in Science, National Association for Equal Opportunity, Society of Women Engineers, Thurgood Marshall College Fund, United Negro College Fund, National Center for Women and Information Technology, Hampton Roads Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Association for Women in Math, American Mathematical Society, National Association of Mathematicians, Mathematical Association of America, National Congress of Black Women, AnitaB.org, American Chemical Society, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

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