An undated photo of Mary W. Jackson (Courtesy of NASA)
An undated photo of Mary W. Jackson (Courtesy of NASA)

Mary W. Jackson, the first African American female engineer at NASA and one of the subjects of the biographical film “Hidden Figures,” will have the agency’s headquarters building in Washington, D.C., named in her honor.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the move is one of many to honor Jackson and others like her for their trailblazing work.

“Mary W. Jackson was part of a group of very important women who helped NASA succeed in getting American astronauts into space,” Bridenstine said. “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.”

Bridenstine also said the now Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters building in southwest appropriately sits on ‘Hidden Figures Way.’

“Hidden no more, we will continue to recognize the contributions of women, African Americans, and people of all backgrounds who have helped construct NASA’s successful history to explore.”

Jackson started her career at NASA in the segregated West Area Computing Unit of the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va. The unit’s work garnered national attention in 2016 following the release of Margot Lee Shetterly’s book “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race.”

The book was made into a movie that same year highlighting three brilliant African American women — Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan — who all served as the brains behind one of the greatest operations in history, the launch of astronaut John Glenn into orbit in 1962.

“We are honored that NASA continues to celebrate the legacy of our mother and grandmother Mary W. Jackson,” said Carolyn Lewis, Jackson’s daughter. “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.”

Born in Hampton, Va., Jackson graduated from Hampton Institute in 1942 with a dual degree in math and physical sciences, and initially accepted a job as a math teacher in Calvert County, Md., according to her biography. She would work as a bookkeeper and as a secretary in the U.S. Army before her aerospace career would take off.

In 1951, Jackson was recruited by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which was succeeded by NASA in 1958. She started as a research mathematician who became known as one of the human computers at Langley.

After two years in the computing pool, Jackson received an offer 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, according to NASA.

For nearly two decades during her engineering career, she authored and co-authored numerous research reports, mostly focused on the behavior of the boundary layer of air around airplanes.

In 1979, she joined Langley’s Federal Women’s Program, which supports career development and advancement for women, to address the hiring and promotion of the next generation of female mathematicians, engineers and scientists. Jackson retired in 1985.

Last year, President Donald Trump signed the Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act that posthumously awarded the honor to Jackson, who died in 2005, and her “Hidden Figures” colleagues Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Christine Darden.

“NASA facilities across the country are named after people who dedicated their lives to push the frontiers of the aerospace industry,” Bridenstine said. “The nation is beginning to awaken to the greater need to honor the full diversity of people who helped pioneer our great nation.”

Sarafina Wright –Washington Informer Staff Writer

Sarafina Wright is a staff writer at the Washington Informer where she covers business, community events, education, health and politics. She also serves as the editor-in-chief of the WI Bridge, the Informer’s...

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