Mary W. Jackson was the first Black woman engineer to be hired by NASA in 1958, and one of the historical characters the film Hidden Figures featured to bring attention to the work Black women did in the U.S. “Space Race.” Jackson first started working at NASA in the segregated West Area Computing Unit at their Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, according to the organization. She began as a research mathematician, known as a “human computer.”
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
Two years later, Jackson was brought in to work with a 4-foot by 4-foot Supersonic Pressure Tunnel, doing hands-on experiments. To be promoted from mathematician to engineer, Jackson’s supervisor suggested she enter a training program—but the program was conducted at a segregated high school. Jackson had to receive special permission to attend.
“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, when the name change was announced on Wednesday.
This is Mary Jackson.— Goodable (@Goodable) June 24, 2020
When she first joined NASA in the 1950's, she had two advanced degrees but was still told she couldn't eat in the same cafeteria as white folk.
She went on to become their first Black female engineer.
Today, NASA named their entire headquarters after her. pic.twitter.com/gYEZ1QgxxU
“Today, we proudly announce the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters building,” he continued. “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.”
Many are celebrating the name-change, and the opportunity to discuss Jackson’s contributions to science and her historical achievements, including the first Black woman astronaut, Dr. Mae Jemison:
Extremely pleased by the news that #NASA HQ in Washington DC will be named after Mary W. Jackson, the first African American woman engineer at NASA! https://t.co/zuDXXgwm8G. #MaryJackson #hiddenfigures2020— Dr. Mae Jemison (@maejemison) June 24, 2020
This is a powerful, important memorial. Still thankful for @margotshetterly’s introduction. Let’s continue developing the equitable infrastructure necessary to assure emerging and existing BIPOC are also *in* the building #AmplifyBlackSTEM #VanguardSTEMhttps://t.co/TBo5dKnBlT— Jedidah Isler, PhD (@JedidahIslerPhD) June 24, 2020
A little happy news. https://t.co/bl2exyv4J6— Myesha Braden (@MyeshaBraden) June 25, 2020
Jackson passed away in 2005 and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2019. Her work continues to influence not only NASA but a generation of young scientists she paved the way for.