Washington Streets Renamed After NASA’s Black Women Mathematicians

NASA's Black Women Mathematicians

After the 2016 history drama film Hidden Figurespresented the pioneering work of three black women mathematicians on agency’s early space program, NASA finally gave them their due credit by renaming the street outside its Washington headquarters. Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson were the women who worked tirelessly and gave a crucial contribution to space flight research from the 1940s through to the 1960s when the United States first sent men to orbit and then for the lunar walk.

“These female mathematicians were doing the heavy lifting in aeronautical research and many, many other fields long before those chunks of electronic circuitry became the defining feature of our life and work,” Margot Lee Shetterly, author of the book Hidden Figures, saidat a Wednesday ceremony outside NASA.

Nobody had ever chronicled the work of Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson until Shetterly first did it in her book, which was later, adapted in a movie. She said the decision to ordain Hidden Figures Way honoured “the contributions of unseen individuals who were there at the beginning of the story, and whose persistence and courage have delivered us to where we are today.”

In 2015, former US President Barack Obama awarded the 100 years old Johnson with the Presidential Medal of Freedom the highest civilian honor in the United States. Jackson and Vaughan died in 2005 and 2008 respectively.

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Republican Senator Ted Cruz cosponsored a bill to rename the block as he hopes to motivate the younger generation to follow the footsteps of the women mathematicians. “When little girls and little boys come to see NASA, they’re going to look up and see that sign,” he said, BBCreported.

“This sign is a powerful testament that anyone who is telling a little girl or a little boy ‘You can’t do something’, is not telling the truth.”

On 20 July, NASA will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the successful Apollo 11 mission and humanity’s first Moon landing. It announced in May that it would return astronauts to the Moon by 2024 through its “Artemis” program – named for the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology. This group will include the first woman to walk on its surface. Around 500-plus people have traveled to space of which fewer than 11% have been women, the space agency said.

This sign is a powerful testament that anyone who is telling a little girl or a little boy ‘You can’t do something’ is not telling the truth.

“I think it’s important to recognize everybody’s contributions. Women and men across every racial and ethnic line have contributed to this incredible journey we’re on and I think it is also vitally important that we send the message to little girls and little boys that there is no limit to what you can accomplish,” Cruz told The Guardian.

NASA started employing college-educated African American women in the 1940s as “human computers.” However, they complained of both racial and gender discrimination at work.

Picture credit:  Teamsters

More Stories by Poorvi Gupta