Bipartisan legislation cosponsored by U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine to award four African-American women scientists the Congressional Gold Medal for their work at NASA Langley was signed into law by President Donald Trump Friday.
The Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award in the U.S. It honors Katherine Johnson, Christine Darden, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, posthumously awarding the medal to the latter two, according to a news release from the senators’ offices.
The distinction serves to commend the women for their contributions to NASA’s success during the Space Race and to highlight their impact on society — paving the way for women, especially women of color, in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
“We are thrilled that these four trailblazers are being recognized with this honor,” Kaine and Warner said in a joint statement. “Their engineering and calculations were essential to our nation’s success in the Space Race, but for too long, they didn’t receive the acknowledgment they deserve.”
Johnson calculated trajectories for multiple NASA space missions; Vaughan was the first African American supervisor at the agency; Jackson was the first female African American engineer at the agency; and Darden became the first African American person promoted to the senior executive service at Langley. Each became experts in their fields and worked to revolutionize both their profession and the pathways available to other women and people of color.
Their lives and careers 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, who lives in Charlottesville and is a graduate of and a visiting scholar at the University of Virginia. The book was adapted into the 2016 film “Hidden Figures.”