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Bipartisan Group Of Senators Nominates 'Hidden Figures' Trailblazers For Congressional Gold Medal

Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and Christine Darden played integral roles in the success of NASA's space program.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a bill Thursday that would award a Congressional Gold Medal to a trailblazing group of African-American women at NASA, whose largely undocumented contributions to the U.S. space program gained a wider awareness through the book and movie “Hidden Figures.” 

The legislation honors Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and Christine Darden, engineers and mathematicians who were among the first African-American leaders at NASA and played integral roles in the success of a number of major space missions.

Their stories were the subject of Margot Lee Shetterly’s book Hidden Figures, later adapted into a popular movie in 2016, starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae.

NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson and actors Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae pose backstage during the
NASA mathematician Katherine Johnson and actors Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae pose backstage during the 89th Annual Academy Awards.

“Each of these women played an important role at NASA during the Space Race, but for many years their accomplishments remained hidden,” Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) said in a press release. “This bill will help recognize these extraordinary women and bring their accomplishments into the light so they can serve as an inspiration to younger generations of women in science, particularly those of color.”

Coons, along with Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), sponsored the bill, which has the support of 44 other senators.

“These women were barrier breakers, and their immeasurable contributions to NASA and our nation have cemented their place in history,” Harris said in the release. “I’m proud to help recognize their achievements as they continue to serve as a beacon for black women both young and old, across the country.”

In 2015, President Barack Obama awarded Johnson the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The Congressional Gold Medal is considered one of the nation’s highest civilian honors, celebrating individuals and groups who have made invaluable contributions to American history and culture. Past recipients have included the Little Rock Nine, the Native American code talkers during World War II, and the thousands who marched from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, during the civil rights movement.

Senate rules mandate that legislation involving the award should have the support of 67 senators before consideration, though many such bills have been approved through a more informal voice vote. 

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