Four brilliant black women are being awarded Congressional Gold Medals for their fruitful and relentless efforts in making space travel possible.
Engineers Christine Darden and Mary Jackson, computer programmer Dorothy Vaughan, and mathematician Katherine Johnson are being honored with the highest awards for a U.S. civilian. The four women played a vital role in the Space Race, the 20th-century competition on spaceflight capability firsts between the Soviet Union and the United States.
It was their brilliance and efforts that made it possible for John Glenn to become the first American to ever orbit the Earth.
You can imagine all that these women had to go through while formulating complex calculations to aid NASA throughout the competition: sexism, segregation, and racism. Refusing to let these inhumane circumstances hinder them from fully achieving their goals, these incredible women worked relentlessly and continued to rise.
Katherine Johnson became the first recognized female author of a report from the Flight Research Division while Dorothy Vaughan made it as the first African-American supervisor at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which eventually became NASA. Mary Jackson was NASA’s first African-American female engineer and eventually became Langley’s Federal Women’s Program Manager.
Last but not least, Christine Darden continued on to become the Senior Executive Service at Langley with over 50 articles on aeronautics design under her belt.
They may have worked behind the scenes but full credit is being given to the amazing foursome for their accomplishments and for standing tall despite racial and gender discriminations at work.
Stories about what these women achieved and how they pursued success inspired the bestselling book “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race” by Margot Lee Shetterly.
The book was later on turned into a movie in 2016 and was directed by Theodore Melfi and written by Melfi and Allison Schroeder.
Aside from a detailed account of their stories shared through writing and film, recognition also took the form in structures and streets: Katherine Johnson has a building named after her at NASA, while a street in front of the federal agency’s Washington D.C. headquarters was renamed “Hidden Figures Way.”
US Senator Kamala Devi Harris was among those who introduced the bill. In a statement, she 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” was signed into law last Friday, November 8, 2019. The scope of this bill also includes the recognition of all the women who contributed to NASA’s success during the Space Race between the Cold War rivals.
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