Engineers Christine Darden and Mary Jackson, mathematician Katherine Johnson, and computer programmer Dorothy Vaughan have been awarded Congressional Gold Medals, the highest civilian award in the U.S.

Vaughan and Jackson, who passed away in 2008 and 2005 respectively, were awarded posthumously.

The group is collectively knowns as “Hidden Figures” — groundbreaking scientists who worked at NASA during the space race. They played an integral role in putting people on the moon.

A fifth gold medal has been granted to honour all the women who contributed to NASA during the Space Race.

President Donald Trump signed the Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act into law on Friday.

No longer hidden

Despite their invaluable contributions and accomplishments, the scientists were hidden away in a segregated building on the NASA campus and forced to use separate bathrooms and dining facilities, away from their white colleagues.

Meet the women

From left to right: Dr. Christine Darden, Mary Jackson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Katherine Johnson.

Dr. Christine Darden (September 10, 1942) is a mathematician, data analyst, and aeronautical engineer who spent most of her 40-year career researching supersonic flight and sonic booms. She was the first Black woman to be promoted to the top rank at NASA’s Langley Research Center. 

Mary Jackson (April 9, 1921 – February 11, 2005) was a mathematician and aerospace engineer who spent most of her 34-year career at the Langley Research Center. She began as a human computer and, in 1958, became NASA’s first Black female engineer. 

Dorothy Vaughan (September 20, 1910 – November 10, 2008) was a mathematician and human computer who was the first Black woman to supervise a group of staff at NASA predecessor NACA. During her career, she became an expert FORTRAN programmer and contributed to the Scout Launch Vehicle Program.

Katherine Johnson (August 26, 1918) is a mathematician whose orbital mechanics calculations helped make the first crewed spaceflights possible. 

Some of her work encompassed calculating trajectories, launch windows, and emergency return paths for Project Mercury.

All photos courtesy of NASA.