President Donald Trump signed the Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act into law on Friday, which honors mathematician Katherine Johnson, computer programmer Dorothy Vaughan, and engineers Christine Darden and Mary Jackson. Vaughan, who died in 2008, and Jackson, who died in 2005, will receive the medals posthumously.
“These 4 women, along with the other African American women in NASA’s West Area Computing unit, were integral to the success of the early space program,” the bill reads.
Johnson, played by Taraji P. Henson in the 2017 film “Hidden Figures,” calculated trajectories for several space missions including the first human space flight by an American. Vaughan, played by Octavia Spencer, led the West Area Computing unit for nine years and later became the first Black supervisor at NASA. Jackson, played by Janelle Monáe, was the first Black woman to become an engineer at NASA. Darden, who was not depicted in “Hidden Figures,” was an engineer who was the first Black person to be promoted into the Senior Executive Service at Langley.
Johnson, Vaughan, Darden and Jackson “exemplify the experiences of hundreds of women who worked as computers, mathematicians, and engineers at NACA [National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics] beginning in the 1930s,” the bill adds. Their work played an integral role in aircraft testing during World War II, sending the Voyager probes to explore the solar system and the U.S. landing the first man on the moon.
A fifth gold medal will also be issued to honor “all women who served as computers, mathematicians, and engineers at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration between the 1930s and the 1970s,” the act reads. Presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) applauded the bill after it passed in the House last month.
“The groundbreaking accomplishments of these four women, and all of the women who contributed to the success of NASA, helped us win the space race but remained in the dark far too long,” she wrote. “I am proud our bill to honor these remarkable women has passed Congress. These pioneers remain a beacon for Black women across the country, both young and old.”