NASA announced recently that it named its headquarters building in Washington D.C after its first African-American woman engineer, Mary Jackson.
Mathematician and aerospace engineer Jackson became the first Black female engineer in NASA in 1958, inspiring thousands others since her to follow suit.
“Mary W. Jackson was part of a group of very important women who helped NASA succeed in getting American astronauts into space. Mary never accepted the status quo, she helped break barriers and open opportunities for African Americans and women in the field of engineering and technology,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a statement released by NASA.
Thanks to Margot Lee Shetterly’s book “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race” released in 2016, the role of Jackson and other pioneering Black NASA scientists was widely recognized. A movie called ‘Hidden Figures’ was made the same year, in which Jackson was portrayed by award-winning musician and actress Janelle Monáe.
Subsequently, in June 2019, NASA honoured the three Black female engineers – Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson – by renaming the street outside its headquarters ‘Hidden Figures Way.‘
Our headquarters building in Washington, D.C., will be named after Mary W. Jackson, the first African-American female engineer at NASA. She started in @NASAaero research and later moved into the personnel field, working to ensure equal opportunity in hiring and promotion. pic.twitter.com/eMandeaMyv
— NASA (@NASA) June 24, 2020
“We proudly announce the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters building. It appropriately sits on ‘Hidden Figures Way,’ a reminder that Mary is one of many incredible and talented professionals in NASA’s history who contributed to this agency’s success. Hidden no more, we will continue to recognize the contributions of women, African Americans, and people of all backgrounds who have made NASA’s successful history of exploration possible,” Bridenstine added in the statement.
Who was Mary Jackson?
Born on 9th April 1921 in Hampton, Virginia, Jackson graduated with a dual degree in math and physical sciences from the Hampton Institute in 1942.
In 1951, she began working with the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which in 1958 was succeeded by NASA. At the space agency, she started her career at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia in the West Area Computing Unit, where she began to be known as one of the ‘human computers’ thanks to her mathematical prowess.
She then attended a training program to be promoted from mathematician and engineer, and became NASA first Black female engineer in 1958. While it might seem shocking today, she had to take special permission to attend the classes with her white colleagues. For the next twenty years in her engineering career, Jackson authored or co-authored research numerous reports. In 1979, she worked with the Langley’s Federal Women’s Program, where she addressed issues of women employment and empowerment, which included the hiring and promotion of the next generation of female mathematicians, engineers, and scientists.
In 2019, she was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for her massive contributions to the world of science.
This move by NASA comes in the wake of protests in the United States against systemic racism and racial inequality.0