August 03, 2018

Cortez Masto, Colleagues Introduce Bill to Recognize ‘Hidden Figures’ for Contributions to U.S. during the Space Race

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined Chris Coons (D-Del.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and 43 of her colleagues in introducing a bipartisan bill to award Congressional Gold Medals to Katherine Johnson and Dr. Christine Darden; and to posthumously award Congressional Gold Medals to Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson. The bill serves to commend these women for their contributions to NASA’s success during the Space Race and highlight their broader impact on society; paving the way for women, especially women of color, in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.

“Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson and Dr. Christine Darden are four incredible women who helped pave the way towards gender and racial equality in the work place and set an example for NASA, and the whole country,” said Cortez Masto. “Honoring women and minority trailblazers is very important to me. I know that it is our country’s diversity that makes our businesses smarter and our communities stronger. I am proud to be part of this resolution and hope that illuminating the stories of these women will inspire girls to pursue STEM careers.”

BACKGROUND:

The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award in the U.S. It is awarded to those 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.

The Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act will honor:

  • Katherine Johnson, who calculated trajectories for multiple NASA space missions including the first human spaceflight by an American, Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 mission. She also calculated trajectories for John Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission to orbit the earth. During her time at NASA, she became the first woman recognized as an author of a report from the Flight Research Division.
  • Dorothy Vaughan, who led the West Area Computing unit for nine years, as the first African American supervisor at National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which later became NASA. She later became an expert programmer in FORTRAN as a part of NASA’s Analysis and Computation Division.
  • Mary Jackson, who petitioned the City of Hampton to allow her to take graduate-level courses in math and physics at night at the all-white Hampton High School in order to become an engineer at NASA. She was the first female African-American engineer at the agency. Later in her career, she worked to improve the prospects of NASA’s female mathematicians, engineers, and scientists as Langley’s Federal Women’s Program Manager.
  • Dr. Christine Darden, who became an engineer at NASA 16 years after Mary Jackson. She worked to revolutionize aeronautic design, wrote over 50 articles on aeronautics design, and became the first African-American person of any gender to be promoted into the Senior Executive Service at Langley.

The lives and careers of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Christine Darden were featured in the 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. That book was adapted into the 2016 film Hidden Figures.

Statements of support can be found here.

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