Mary Jackson (born April 9th, 1921, Hampton, Virginia, died February 11th, 2005) was an American mathematician and aerospace engineer. In 1958, she because the first African American female engineer to work at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
Jackson was raised in Hampton, Virginia. She graduated high school with highest honours and then went to Hampton University where she earned a dual degree in mathematics and physical sciences in 1942.
She started working at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in 1952, where she was a member of the West Area Computing Unit and the West Computers, comprised of African American female mathematicians including Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan. NACA was segregated at that time, and the black employees were required to use separate washrooms and dining areas.
Mary Jackson left the West Computers in 1953 to work with Kazimierz Czarnecki on wind tunnel experiments. He suggested that she take the required training to become an engineer. As Virginia’s schools were segregated at that time, Jackson had to receive special permission to take classes with white students. She went on to complete the necessary courses and became the first lack female engineer at NASA.
She worked as an aerospace engineer for twenty years and focused much of her research into airflow around aircraft. She later went on to become the manager of the women’s program at NASA. She retired in 1985.
She and other West Computers – including Dorothy Vaughan and Katherine Johnson – were the inspiration for 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. Mary Jackson was awarded a posthumous Congressional Gold Medal in 2019 and the NASA headquarters building was renamed after her in 2020.
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