NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced that the agency’s headquarters in Washington DC will be named after Mary W. Jackson, the first African-American female engineer to work at the aerospace company.
Jackson, who passed away in 2005, started her NASA career in the segregated West Area Computing Unit of the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
She was a mathematician and aerospace engineer went on to lead programs influencing the hiring and promotion of women in NASA’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers. In 2019, she was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by President Donald Trump, along with her “Hidden Figures” contemporaries in Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Christine Darden.
“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,” says Bridenstine.
“Today, 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.”
In 1951, Jackson was recruited by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which was succeeded by NASA in 1958. After two years in the computing pool, Jackson began to work in the 4-foot by 4-foot Supersonic Pressure Tunnel, a 60,000 horsepower wind tunnel capable of blasting models with winds approaching twice the speed of sound.
There, Jackson received hands-on experience conducting experiments. Her supervisor eventually suggested she enter a training program that would allow Jackson to earn a promotion from mathematician to engineer. However, since the classes were held at then-segregated Hampton High School, Jackson needed special permission to join her white peers in the classroom.
In 1958, Jackson became NASA’s first Black female engineer after completing the course, then for nearly two decades she worked on the various research project and authored and co-authored numerous reports, most focused on the behaviour of the boundary layer of air around aeroplanes.
“NASA facilities across the country are named after people who dedicated their lives to push the frontiers of the aerospace industry. The nation is beginning to awaken to the greater need to honour the full diversity of people who helped pioneer our great nation. Over the years NASA has worked to honour the work of these Hidden Figures in various ways, including naming facilities, renaming streets and celebrating their legacy,” adds Bridenstine.
“We know there are many other people of colour and diverse backgrounds who have contributed to our success, which is why we’re continuing the conversations started about a year ago with the agency’s Unity Campaign. NASA is dedicated to advancing diversity, and we will continue to take steps to do so.”