NASA Renames Street, Honours Black Female Mathematicians

NASA's headquarters in Washington now sits on Hidden Figures Way.
Jessica Miley

NASA has renamed the street in front of its headquarters Hidden Figures Way, in recognition of the black female mathematicians who played a crucial but overlooked role in many of NASA’s most celebrated missions.

The women overcame brutalbrutal racial segregation and gender discrimination, to work as the ‘human computers’ at the beginning of the Apollo missions.

The newly renamed road honours African American mathematicians Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, whose stories were highlighted in the 2016 book Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly and the subsequent film that was directed by Theodore Melfi.

Shettterly joined members of the women's family alongside Ted Cruz, Chairman of the Senate subcommittee on aviation and space, Jim Bridenstine, the NASA administrator and another former NASA mathematician, Christine Darden, to unveil the new signs in Washington.

NASA is preparing for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission that saw humans walk on the moon for the first time. All 11 of the astronauts who have stepped foot on the moon have been white men.

Mathematicians working at NASA in the 1950’s were known as computers and African American mathematician were dubbed ‘coloured computers’.

These men and women were separated from their white colleagues even when calculating trajectories for critical missions such as sending Alan Shepard, the first American into space, and John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth.

Senator Cruz reportedly pushed for the name change after seeing the film last year with his wife and daughters.

The US Senate and Washington DC council approved the idea before it was passed by local authorities. Earlier this year NASA renamed one of its facilities in Fairmont, Vermont in honor of Katherine Johnson. In 2015, Johnson was awarded the presidential medal by Barack Obama, the highest civilian honor in the United States. 

NASA is preparing to go back to the moon and has promised that one of the astronauts on board the Artemis mission will be a women.

“I think it is very beautiful that 50 years after Apollo, the Artemis program will carry the next man and the first woman to the Moon,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.

“I have a daughter who is 11 years old, and I want her to be able to see herself in the same role as the next women that go to the Moon.”

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