Hidden Figures Way – Washington, D.C. - Atlas Obscura

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Hidden Figures Way

A street in front of NASA's D.C. headquarters has been named in honor of the Black women who were essential to early spaceflight. 

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Since 1992, the headquarters building of NASA has stood at 300 E Street SW in Washington, D.C., a nine-story office complex running the overall operations of the agency. It’s a far cry from the Goddard Space Flight Center or other research facilities across the country, rarely on the itineraries of those visiting D.C. as tourists.

But if you happen to walk in front of it, your eyes are bound to catch an unconventional street name written on the sign: “Hidden Figures Way.” And those who are au fait with modern cinema might remember a biographical drama film with that title, which gathered a great deal of critical praise and even three Oscar nominations in 2017, including one for Best Picture.

Based on the nonfiction book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly, the film focuses on a trio of Black women mathematicians working for NASA in the 1960s: Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, portrayed by Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe, respectively. While Johnson is the best-known of the three, for calculating flight trajectories for both Project Mercury and Apollo 11, Mary Jackson became the namesake for the renamed NASA headquarters in 2020 to pay tribute to her achievement.

The strip of E Street in front of the building was also renamed in the year prior to it, after Shetterly’s book that gave international recognition to the previously “hidden” figures of NASA history. It does not only honor the three mathematicians featured in her book and the film adaption but also all the women who blazed the trail for progress in gender equality as well as in space exploration.

Know Before You Go

The sign is across E Street from NASA Headquarters at the corner of E Street (Hidden Figures Way) and 4th Ave.

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