What do you give someone for a 50th-anniversary celebration? If you’re Sesame Street or NASA, the trend seems to be a street. Yep, you heard us correctly! Earlier this year, New York City renamed one of its streets to Sesame Street (now we know how to get there!) to celebrate its 50th anniversary. And earlier this week, NASA renamed the street leading up to its headquarters in Washington, DC to Hidden Figures Way to honor Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson for their contributions toward advancing space exploration. But why these three women?
In the 1950s there were very few women who worked for NASA, and even fewer were women of color. For John Glenn’s flight into space, Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson helped calculate the flight trajectory — by hand. Yes, we said by hand! While aeronautical engineers depend on computers to calculate problems now, back in the 1950s, that was not the case. NASA mathematicians like Johnson, Vaughan, and Jackson, otherwise called human “computers,” made these complex calculations by hand, and played a pivotal role in advancing space exploration. However, until recently, very few people knew that women, and specifically these three women, played any kind of role in NASA. It wasn’t until 2016 that their story was told in the book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, which was also made into a movie in 2016.
What’s more fitting than to honor these three women on the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing than to rename the street right in front of NASA headquarters Hidden Figures Way?
If you had the opportunity to honor someone, what would you do?