Hidden Figures Way: NASA Honors African American Female Mathematicians By Renaming Its Headquarter’s Street

Clouds are seen behind the NASA's Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center February 7, 2008 at Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Mark Wilson / Getty Images

On Wednesday, new street signs were revealed outside U.S. space agency NASA’s headquarters after the organization renamed the street to honor the African American female mathematicians who played a key role in some of their most famed space missions, reported The Guardian.

The new street name, Hidden Figures Way, honors three female mathematicians – Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson – who were featured in the 2016 book Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly and the film by the same name.

The dedication ceremony took place outside NASA offices on E. Street in Washington where Shetterly attended alongside the three women’s families, the chairman of the Senate subcommittee on aviation and space Ted Cruz, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, and Christine Darden, who worked as one of the agency’s human computers for the Apollo 11 mission.

According to the article, Cruz was particularly touched by the story told in Hidden Figures. After seeing the film with his mother, wife, and daughters, he became one of the leading forces in changing the street name to honor the women who contributed so much to the early space missions but were relatively unheard of until recently.

During the unveiling, Cruz spoke about the importance of honoring both men and women across all racial and ethnic groups who contributed to NASA’s projects and missions, adding that it’s crucial to send the message to all girls and boys that they can accomplish anything they put their minds to.

“The extraordinary achievements of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson and Dr. Christine Darden, who’s with us today, prior to the book and the movie had not been told. Very few people knew those stories, and yet those are stories that can and do inspire and we should be telling stories like that a lot more often.”

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The renaming of the street comes in response to legislation passed in December of 2018, in which a bill introduced by D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson would allow for the name change to symbolically honor the numerous women who worked for NASA. The effort to change the name to Hidden Figures Way was unanimously supported by the D.C. Council.

The movie adaptation of the book came out in 2016 and starred actresses Janelle Monáe, Taraji P. Henson, and Octavia Spencer as the main characters. The film, which received three Oscar nominations, depicted the struggles of African American women working for NASA — at the time referred to as “colored computers” — as they calculated trajectories for space missions in the 1950s.

One of the women whose story is told in the movie, Mary Jackson, was awarded the presidential medal of freedom in 2015 by former President Barack Obama.