Engineers Christine Darden and Mary Jackson, mathematician Katherine Johnson, and computer programmer Dorothy Vaughan are four black women that worked as “human computers” at NASA during the Space Race. All of these women played a vital role in helping John Glenn become the first American to orbit the Earth through their complex calculations.
Even though these women worked behind the scenes at the time, they’re now getting the credit they deserve. Their accomplishments have been brought to the forefront, and their amazing and inspiring stories were detailed in Margot Lee Shetterly’s book “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race”, which was later turned into a movie. We must note, though, that even though Darden was not featured in the movie, she was in the book.
Johnson even has a building at NASA named after her, and a street in front of NASA’s Washington D.C. headquarters was named “Hidden Figures Way”.
The four women are now being awarded Congressional Gold Medals, which is the highest award for a civilian in the U.S. Vaughan and Jackson will be awarded posthumously, and a fifth gold medal will honor all of the women who contributed to NASA during the space race.
It’s truly amazing to think of what these women were able to achieve, and all while fighting against sexism, hate against race, and exclusion.
Johnson is the first woman ever recognized as an author of a report from the Flight Research Division, and Vaughan became the first African American supervisor at NACA, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which later turned into NASA.
Jackson was the first African-American female engineer at NASA, and Darden was the first African-American promoted into the Senior Executive Service at Langley. She later wrote over 50 articles on aeronautics design.
A bi-partisan bill that was introduced by Senators Chris Coons, Lisa Murkowski, and Kamala Harris, and it was signed into law by the President.
A release said that the bill commends these women for their contributions to NASA’s success and highlights their broader impact on society, paving the way for women, especially women of color, in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.