US Coins

CFA reviews designs for medals honoring pioneering NASA women

Two different proposed obverse designs were recommended Sept. 17 by the Commission of Fine Arts for the Hidden Figures group congressional gold medal.

Images courtesy of the United States Mint

Proposed designs for three of five Hidden Figures gold medals were recommended Sept. 17 by the Commission of Fine Arts. Designs were considered for individual medals recognizing Mary Jackson and Dorothy J. Vaughan and a group medal collectively recognizing the work and achievements of African-American women at NASA.

The Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act calls for the following: one congressional gold medal to Katherine Johnson, in recognition of her service to the United States as a mathematician; one congressional gold medal to Dr. Christine Darden, for her service to the United States as an aeronautical engineer; two congressional gold medals in commemoration of the lives of Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, in recognition of their service to the United States during the Space Race; and one gold medal in recognition of all the women who served as computers, mathematicians, and engineers at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration between the 1930s and the 1970s.

All worked at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, in the late 1950s.

Designs for the Johnson and Darden medals are to be reviewed at a later date.

Commission members concurred with the recommended proposed designs favored by Mint liaisons.

The Jackson designs favored by Wanda Jackson, Jackson’s granddaughter, depict for the obverse, according to the Mint’s narrative, “Mary Jackson holding an early model of the space shuttle.” The favored reverse “features a full-length figure of Ms. Jackson with a clipboard and pen, superimposed on a large wind tunnel, representing her work with air boundary layer information. ...”

Vaughan’s children reviewed designs for her medal.

The CFA-recommended obverse “builds upon design 11 and includes a piano key border, denoting Ms. Vaughan’s lifelong love of music and playing the piano.” Design 11 depicts “a portrait of Dorothy Vaughan with an upward gaze.”

The recommended reverse “substitutes the chalkboard [of Design 6] for a mainframe computer with magnetic tape units, representing the transition from manual to coded computing and Ms. Vaughan’s expertise with the FORTRAN computer language. ...”

For the Hidden Figures group medal, two obverse designs and one reverse were recommended.

One obverse “brings the women who performed as computers, mathematicians, and engineers behind the scenes of the U.S. space program to the forefront. The design includes the ‘greater than/equal to’ mathematical symbol, representing the fact that these women are arguably equal to their male counterparts. ...”

The second obverse “is a realistic depiction of a diverse group of four women who represent all of the women who were vital to the space missions at NACA and NASA between the 1930s and 1970s.”

The reverse recommended “depicts three spacecraft: an Atlas rocket, a space capsule, and a satellite. Their success is due in part to the women computers, mathematicians and engineers who calculated their orbital patterns with precision and accuracy.”

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