Know Mary Jackson: The woman NASA’s headquarter is named after
Nasa has named its headquarters in Washington DC after its first black female engineer, Mary Jackson.
Jackson had helped to break down barriers for African Americans and women in engineering and technology. The story of Mary Jackson was told in the 2016 film Hidden Figures. Born in Hampton, Virginia, she died in 2005.
In an effort to eradicate systemic patterns of racism in the USA, the American space agency would bring forth the contributions by the African Americans in NASA.
Who was Mary Jackson?
Born in an era when racial segregation was legal in the United States, Jackson first worked as a math teacher at a black school in Maryland state after she graduated with a dual degree in Math and Physical Sciences from the historically black Hampton Institute (now Hampton University).
Jackson went through a number of career changes before making history at NASA. Post her stint as a teacher, Jackson worked as a receptionist at a non-profit in her native state of Virginia, which catered to the local African American population. She also worked as a bookkeeper at her alma mater.
It was in 1951 that Jackson joined the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory (currently the NASA Langley Research Center), and worked in the racially segregated West Area Computing Unit.
Her NASA days
Jackson in 1958 became NASA’s first African American female engineer. According to the space agency’s website, it is possible that Jackson might have been the only black female aeronautical engineer in the male-dominated field at the time. Over the next two decades, she worked at several NASA departments, and authored or co-authored 12 technical papers before retiring in 1985.
Jackson also worked at the Federal Women’s Program, the NASA Office of Equal Opportunity Programs, and the Affirmative Action Program, where she furthered the role of women in NASA’s science, engineering, and mathematics careers.
Jackson was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal by the United States in 2019.