This Sign is a Powerful Testament to the Women Who Helped Take Mankind to the Moon and Conquer the Greatest Challenges of an Era

As Chairman of the Subcommittee on Aviation and Space, today I participated in a ceremony with NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine to rename the street in front of NASA's headquarters as "Hidden Figures Way." The designation honors Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, who were featured in the movie Hidden Figures, Dr. Christine Darden, and all women who have dedicated their lives to honorably serving their country, advancing equality, and contributing to the United States space program.

Still photos from the ceremony may be viewed here. My remarks are below:

Today is a celebration of women. Today is a celebration of African American pioneers. Today is a celebration of American heroes. This is a wonderful day. Let me say how humbled I am, how honored I am to spend time with the families of these extraordinary, fearless visionaries. Not only do we have the families of Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, but we also have Dr. Christine Darden, who was herself a human computer. She has joined us here today as well and we're honored to have her here.

This is a moment reflecting on history, but it's also a moment that I think impacts all of us personally and directly. And so with a little indulgence, I'll share a story from my family. When the movie Hidden Figures came out, I took my family to see it. I've got two little girls, I brought both my girls, brought my wife, and I brought my mom. We all sat in the theatre and watched it. My girls are eight and 11.

After the movie, Heidi and I sat down with our girls as we were putting them to bed that night and we were just talking to them, ‘What'd you think of the movie? What'd you think about what you saw?' And it was interesting, that movie was the first time they had seen a movie that shows segregation, and they were confused - ‘Why would people do that?' And we had probably an hour long conversation that evening about this nation's challenging and troubled history on race.

In many ways, it was pure and wonderful to see an eight year old and an 11 year old so flabbergasted at what an idiotic and evil idea. But we also talked about women in the workplace.

The movie begins talking about computing the orbits of Sputnik when Sputnik was launched and began orbiting the earth. Well my mom graduated from Rice University in 1956 with a math degree. And she got hired by the Smithsonian to help compute the orbits of Sputnik. So I was asking my mom at the time - my mom's 84. And I said, ‘Alright mom, how accurate was it?' Something I just asked the families this morning - ‘How good a job did the movie do capturing what it was like to be a woman in a very difficult work place in the 1960s or the 1950s?' And my mom's comment, she said, ‘You know it was actually remarkably accurate.' Now it's Hollywood, it's a movie - but it captured the essence of it, which if I may take some liberties is largely what the families, what Dr. Darden said.

I commented at the time, it's a strange thing to today's ear to hear the women mathematicians referred to as computers. We all think of a computer as a hunk of metal on our desk. And my mother laughed. Her very first job before being at the Smithsonian, she worked at Shell. And she said, ‘You know what my first job title was? Computer.' So to the families who are here, all of us, we are quite literally the children of computers.

A street sign is a piece of metal that's under the wind, the sun, the rain, the snow. But a street sign is a lot more than that. 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?' And that in turn is going to prompt a story. A story about the unlimited human potential of all of us. A story about women who helped take mankind to the moon, who helped conquer the greatest challenges of an era. And your story, your mom's story and your grandmother's story, and your mom's story are going to inspire generations after generations of kids. And in particular little girls, little girls who may be told at school ‘you can't do something.' This sign is a powerful testament that anybody who is telling a little girl or little boy you can't do something, is not telling you the truth. This is a monument that you can do anything.

So I was inspired by the movie, I was even more inspired by the stories behind the movie. And so I introduced legislation to rename this street. I joined with Senator John Thune, I joined with Democratic Senator Bill Nelson in moving the legislation. And then let me say - D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson took up the lead. And the Senate and the D.C. Council worked hand in hand to get this done. Phil saw this as a challenge that needed to happen, he jumped on it immediately, said we're going to make this happen. Phil, let me thank you and all of the Council for your strong leadership making today a reality.

In August, I, along with Sens. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), John Thune (R-S.D.), and former Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) introduced a bipartisan bill renaming the street. After introducing the bill, I worked with D.C. City Council Chair Phil Mendelson, who introduced companion legislation. The D.C. City Council unanimously voted to approve the Hidden Figures Way Designation Act of 2018 in December.

 

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