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NASA Renames Headquarters After "Hidden Figures" Engineer Mary Jackson

NASA's Washington, D.C. Headquarters is being renamed in honor of Mary Jackson, the space agency's first African American female engineer.

Mary Jackson was NASA's first African American female engineer — now, the space agency is honoring her contributions by renaming its Washington, D.C. headquarters in her honor! In addition to her scientific accomplishments, Jackson also led programs which supported the hiring and promotion of more women at NASA and served as a Girl Scout leader for more than 30 years. "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 NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "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."

Born in 1921 in Hampton, Virginia, Jackson was a talented student who earned bachelor's degrees in mathematics and physical science from Hampton University. In 1951, she was recruited by National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which would later become NASA, to work as a research mathematician or "human computer." As NASA historian Bill Barry recounts, "The women were meticulous and accurate... and they didn't have to pay them very much." The first women joined the NASA computer pool hand-calculating the vast number of equations required by the early space program in 1935. Following President Franklin Roosevelt's 1941 Executive Order banning discrimination in the government workforce, African American women also began working as human computers, including Dorothy Vaughan in 1943 who later supervised Jackson.

In 1953, Jackson received an invitation from engineer Kazimierz Czarnecki to help run calculations for his work with the the Supersonic Pressure Tunnel, a 4 foot by 4 foot, 60,000 horsepower wind tunnel he was using to test models of potential spacecraft with supersonic winds. Czarnecki was so impressed by Jackson that he suggested  she take the graduate-level courses required so she could be promoted to an engineer. The only such courses available were a night program by the University of Virginia held at the all-white Hampton High School. Jackson had to petition the City of Hampton for permission to attend, which she did successfully. After completing the course, she was promoted to aerospace engineer, becoming NASA's first African American female engineer in 1958.

For the next two decades, Jackson authored or co-authored numerous research reports, most focused on the behavior of the boundary layer of air around airplanes. By 1979, having achieved the most senior title within the engineering department, Johnson decided to switch gears and focus on helping other women enter the field. She took a demotion in order to serve as both the Federal Women's Program Manager in the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs and as the Affirmative Action Program Manager. Until her retirement in 1985, she helped pave the way for the next generation of female and minority engineers, scientists, and mathematicians at NASA. She died of natural causes in Hampton, Virginia in 2005.

Since the bestselling book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win The Space Race and movie adaptation brought the contributions of  Jackson and her fellow "Hidden Figures" to light, people across the country have been honoring the work of these trailblazing mathematicians. Jackson was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor along with fellow "Hidden Figures" Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Christine Darden in 2019. The same year, a bipartisan bill renamed the portion of E Street SW in front of NASA Headquarters, calling it Hidden Figures Way. NASA has also named two of their facilities after Katherine Johnson: the Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation Facility in West Virginia and the Katherine Johnson Computational Research Facility at NASA's Langley Research Center.

"We are honored that NASA continues to celebrate the legacy of our mother and grandmother Mary W. Jackson," Carolyn Lewis, Jackson's daughter, said in response to this week's announcement. "She was a scientist, humanitarian, wife, mother, and trailblazer who paved the way for thousands of others to succeed, not only at NASA, but throughout this nation."

Books About Trailblazing Women In Engineering

Future Engineer

Future Engineer

Written by: Lori Alexander
Illustrated by: Allison Black
Recommended Age: 1 - 3

"Flip a switch. Turn a gear. Could Baby be an engineer?" This baby loves to find out all about how things work! She's full of questions — just like a grown-up engineer — and she's determined to learn the answers. In this charming book from the Future Baby board book series, baby learns fun facts about a variety of engineering fields, including electrical, mechanical, and civil engineering, as well as the importance of keeping a curious spirit and refusing to give up. This delightful and encouraging board book is sure to spark some engineering spirit in everyone! For another fun board book for budding engineers, check out Baby Loves Aerospace Engineering! for ages 0 to 3.

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race

Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race

Recommended Age: 5 - 9

When Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden joined NASA, they were hired as "human computers" — their mathematical genius was put to use calculating launch trajectories for America's first trips to space. They overcame both racism and sexism, carved out careers in science, and participated in some of NASA's greatest triumphs. Fans of the Hidden Figures movie will be excited to share this picture book adaptation of the story of these groundbreaking women mathematicians with younger readers!

The Girl With A Mind For Math: The Story of Raye Montague

The Girl With A Mind For Math: The Story of Raye Montague

Written by: Julia Finley Mosca
Illustrated by: Daniel Rieley
Recommended Age: 5 - 9

As a 7-year-old during WWII, Raye Montague toured a captured German submarine and immediately set her sights on becoming an engineer. Little did she know that sexism and racism would challenge her dream every step of the way. Raye ended up working at the US Navy as a typist, studying engineering at night. One day, when all the engineers were sick with the flu, she astonished everyone by completing all of their work. She went on to become the first person to design a ship on a computer and the Navy's first female ship designer. This inspiring picture book from the Amazing Scientists series celebrates a pioneer who changed ship design forever.

Gutsy Girls Go For Science: Engineers

Gutsy Girls Go For Science: Engineers

Written by: Diane Taylor
Illustrated by: Hui Li
Recommended Age: 8 - 11

Engineering touches almost everything we do, whether it's opening a carton of milk for breakfast or crossing a bridge that connects a city! In this book from the Gutsy Girls Go For Science series, kids will learn about five women in engineering, including Mary Jackson, as well as Ellen Swallow Richards, Emily Warren Roebling, Kate Gleason, and Lillian Moller Gilbreth. They'll also test out some hands-on STEM projects, from conducting a virtual tour of a model bridge to researching organizational psychology. With a fun narrative style and full-color pages, this book is sure to inspire future engineers.

Hidden Figures Young Readers' Edition

Hidden Figures Young Readers' Edition

Written by: Margot Lee Shetterly
Recommended Age: 8 - 13

Before people could orbit the Earth or fly to the moon, there was a group of "human computers": dedicated female mathematician who used pencil and slide rule to calculate how to launch rockets. Four African-American women, Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Christine Darden, were critical to the story of space flight — and yet their story was largely untold. In this young readers edition of Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, tweens will learn how these women, so little appreciated in their time, changed both NASA and America for the better. Younger readers can check out the picture book Hidden Figures: The True Story of Four Black Women and the Space Race for ages 5 to 9.

Power In Numbers: The Rebel Women of Mathematics

Power In Numbers: The Rebel Women of Mathematics

Written by: Talithia Williams
Recommended Age: 12 and up

From 4th century Alexandria to China's Qing Dynasty to the modern day, women have defied convention and made their mark in the world of mathematics! In this full-color volume, Dr. Talithia Williams shares the stories of groundbreaking mathematicians, physicists, and computer scientists — including Mary Jackson, NASA's first black woman engineer — whose love of numbers have driven profound discoveries and phenomenal technological advances. For teens who have ever wondered just how far math can take you, this book provides the answer, along with plenty of inspiration from historical figures — and the women who are making history today.

Hidden Figures

The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

Hidden Figures

The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race

Written by: Margot Lee Shetterly
Recommended Age: Adults

When America set its sights on the moon, launch calculations had to be done by pencils and slide rules in the hands of "human computers" — and among them was a group of incredibly gifted African-American women, without whom space travel would have stayed a dream. This book follows the stories of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden, whose contributions have until recently been largely neglected in the history books but whose work not only helped humankind reach the moon, but also changed the history of black woman in science. This inspiring book, which kicked off a new cultural appreciation for these groundbreaking women, is a must-read title for anyone interested in women's history.

Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures

Recommended Age: 9 and up

This blockbuster film may not feature the Civil Rights struggles as its principal focus, but the story of NASA's "computers" highlights the social changes going on during the 1950s and 60s. Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson were black women mathematicians hired to perform the endless calculations necessary for NASA's research and launches. They crossed gender and racial lines — and in many cases, pushed back against exclusionary policies — in order to help America reach outer space... and even still, few people knew their names until a couple of years ago. This inspiring story, based on the book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race, will give kids perspective on how different the world looked before the Civil Rights movement.

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