Congressional Gold Medal to honor the women of 'Hidden Figures'

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WASHINGTON (CBS19 NEWS) -- Four African-American scientists, whose stories were featured in the film “Hidden Figures,” are being recognized with the Congressional Gold Medal.

Legislation that was sponsored by Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner was signed into law Friday to honor them for their work at NASA Langley.

The four women, Katherine Johnson, Dr. Christine Darden, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson have been commended for their contributions to NASA's success during the Space Race in the 1960s and highlighting their broader impact on society.

Their work paved the way for women, especially those of color, in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

“We are thrilled that these four trailblazers are being recognized with this honor,” said the senators. “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.”

According to a release, the Congressional Gold Medal is the highest civilian award in the United States, which 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.

Johnson calculated trajectories for multiple NASA space mission, including the first human space flight by an American, Alan Shepard's mission Freedom 7. She also calculated trajectories for the Friendship 7 mission with John Glenn and she was the first woman recognized as an author of a report from the Flight Research Division.

Vaughan led the West Area Computing unit for nine years as the first African-American supervisor at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which was what later became NASA. She also became an expert programmer in FORTRAN as part of NASA's Analysis and Computation Division.

Jackson petitioned the city of Hampton to let her take graduate-level courses in math and physics at night at an all-white school so she could become an engineer at NASA, where she was the first African-American engineer. She later worked to improve the prospects of NASA's female mathematicians, engineers, and scientists as Langley's Federal Women's Program Manager.

Darden became an engineer at NASA 16 years after Jackson and she worked to revolutionize aeronautic design, wrote more than 50 articles on aeronautics design, and was the first African-American person of any gender to be promoted into the Senior Executive Service at Langley.

Jackson and Vaughan are receiving the honor posthumously.

These four women 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” written by Margot Lee Shetterly, which was adapted into a 2016 film.

The release adds Warner and Kaine have also honored Johnson, Vaughan and Jackson by acknowledging their achievements in an official statement that is part of the Congressional Record.

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