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NASA Now Working On Giving Recognition To Hidden Figures Who Helped Make Space History

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In honor of the African American women whose calculations helped bring the first Americans into space, NASA renamed a street "Hidden Figures Way" in Washington, D.C. On Wednesday, June 12, an event was held to make the designation official.   ( NASA/Joel Kowsky )

Everyone who will visit the NASA headquarters will be reminded of three African American women who made significant contributions to the agency's space flight program in the 1960s.

NASA Honors Contribution Of African American Human Computers

On Wednesday, June 12, a street in Washington, D.C. was renamed "Hidden Figures Way" to honor the work of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson. The street name was a nod to the book authored by Margot Lee Shetterly and the subsequent Oscar-nominated movie that chronicled the struggles and successes of the "human computers."

"I just want to say these were the three hidden figures in a very prominent book that became a magnificent movie that started a movement that brought all of us here today," stated NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "Here we are, 50 years after the landing of the Apollo 11 Moon lander, celebrating those figures who were, at the time, not celebrated."

The event was attended by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz who, along with Senators Ed Markey, John Thune, and Bill Nelson, introduced the bipartisan bill to give the street a new name last August. D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, Shetterley, and members of the Johnson, Jackson, and Vaughan families were also there to witness the official designation.

"Because for years, and then decades, and then centuries, when little girls and little boys come to see NASA, they're going to look up and see that sign, and they're going to say 'Hidden Figures? What's that? What does that mean?'" Cruz told the crowd. "And that, in turn, is going to prompt a story — a story about the unlimited human potential of all of us."

The designation ceremony took placed ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon landing.

The Hidden Figures Behind NASA's Space Program

In the 1940s, NASA began recruiting African-American women as "human computers." They calculated everything, from how many rockets were needed to make a plane airborne to the trajectory of the first historic flight of Alan Shepard a.k.a the first American in space.

However, these women were also subjected to racism. They were separated from other human computers due to the color of their skin and their significant contribution to the early successes of the space agency were largely ignored.

In February, NASA also renamed its Independent Vertification and Validation Facility in Fairmont, Virginia after Johnson who directly worked on Shepard's Freedom 7 mission in 1961. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor, by former U.S. President Barack Obama in 2015.

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