Nasa honours “Hidden Figures” mathematicians with street rename

NASA has honoured three black female mathematicians who pioneered work on the agency’s early space program by renaming the street outside its Washington headquarters.

This is for Dorothy Vaughan, Katherine Johnson and Mary Jackson’s pivotal contributions to space flight research from the 1940s to the 1960s when the United States first sent men to orbit and then walk on the Moon.

The trio was among dozens of African-Americans, both male and female, who worked as mathematicians and physicists for the US space program, who had to confront the racial segregation of the era such as using separate bathrooms from whites.

They were largely forgotten until they thrashed back into the spotlight in a 2016 blockbuster titled “Hidden Figures” – an adaptation of Margot Lee Shetterly book of the same name.

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According to Shetterly, 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.”

“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,” she said at a Wednesday ceremony outside NASA.

Johnson, who is now 100 was the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honour in the United States back in 2015 by US President Barack Obama.

Jackson and Vaughan died in 2005 and 2008 respectively.

Next month, NASA will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the successful Apollo 11 mission and humanity’s first Moon landing.

Last month, the agency announced its plan to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024 through its “Artemis” program — named for the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology. 

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