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NASA Renames Headquarters After Mary W. Jackson, The First Black Woman Engineer They Employed

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.”

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.

“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:

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.

 

Alison Sullivan

Written by Alison Sullivan