Four African American women who worked at NASA during the space race are being awarded congressional gold medals, the highest civilian award in the United States for their contributions, CNN reported.
Engineers Christine Darden and Mary Jackson, mathematician Katherine Johnson, and computer programmer Dorothy Vaughan played pivotal roles in World War II aircraft testing, supersonic flight research, and sending the Voyager probes to explore the solar system.
President Donald Trump signed into law the Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act on Friday, under which Katherine Johnson and Dr. Christine Darden will each be honored with congressional gold medals, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who died, will also be posthumously awarded.
Today, the #HiddenFigures Congressional Gold Medal Act was signed into law. Congressional gold medals will go to Katherine Johnson and Dr. Christine Darden (and Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson posthumously). Celebrate the women who paved the way at @NASA: https://t.co/5FofRHHUwp pic.twitter.com/qCCYTs2eGo
Vaughan was an expert computer programmer. She led the segregated West Area Computing unit at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which later became NASA. Vaughan died in 2008.
Johnson, throughout her career, provided the space agency with calculations for many missions, including the Apollo missions. She is 101 years old and lives in Virginia.
Darden, 77, started as a data analyst at NASA’s Langley Research Center before becoming an aerospace engineer. Her work led to discoveries “revolutionized aerodynamics design.”
NASA’s first black female engineer, Jackson, worked as an engineer for 21 years. She then became the Federal Women’s Program Manager where she was committed to improving “the prospects of NASA’s female mathematicians, engineers, and scientists.” Jackson died in 2005.
A fifth gold medal also will be granted in honor of all women who contributed to NASA during the Space Race.