NASA will name its headquarter in Washington DC after Mary Jackson, the agency’s first African American female engineer. The move came after the ‘Black Lives Matter’ wave starts storming the entire world.
People are raged over the brutal death of George Floyd, a black civilian, by the hands of callous white policemen. This led to an uprising to stop racial discrimination. Everyone is applauding the movement of social justice and playing their part in it. NASA, too takes a step into the light.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an aeronautics and space research agency in the USA. It was established in 1958, replacing its predecessor National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA).
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced that they are going to name their Washington DC headquarters after Mary Jackson. Remembering her vital contribution to NASA, he said,” Mary W. Jackson was part of a group of essential women who helped NASA succeed in getting American astronauts into space.”
Jim Bridenstine also added, “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.”
Carolyn Lewis, Jackson’s daughter, fell short of words. She felt honored that NASA continued to commemorate her mother’s legacy. On being asked about her mother, she told, “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.”
This is not the first time that NASA has renamed its facility after someone great. Last year, one of the buildings was named after Katherine Johnson, another African-American lady of NASA and fellow worker of Mary Jackson. Her calculations of orbital mechanics proved to be indispensable for the success of first US crewed spaceflights. The building in West Virginia goes by her name- the Katherine Johnson Independent Verification & Validation Facility.
A building was also renamed after Neil Armstrong in 2014. Neil Armstrong is the first man to walk on the Moon. After he died in 2012, NASA decided to change the name of the Dryden Flight Research Centre to Armstrong Flight Research Centre.
Lately, there have been requests to rename NASA’s Stennis Space Centre, Mississippi. It is named after the late Mississippi Senator John C. Stennis. He was known as a segregationist.
Who was Mary Johnson?
Mary Winston Johnson was an American African mathematician and aerospace engineer. Marry Jackson became the first black lady engineer at NASA.
She was born in Hampton, Virginia, in 1921. Being a highly intelligent girl, she had a dual degree in physical science and mathematics from the Hampton Institute (now Hampton University). She was an aerospace engineer at NASA for almost 20 years.
Her work in the organization, along with fellow Black female mathematicians, is depicted in the book “Hidden Figures” and the movie of the same name.
Mary Jackson’s tale of establishing her own identity
In 1951, Mary Jackson started working at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), where she was segregated to the West Area Computing Unit. The West Unit comprised of African American female mathematicians.
At that period, NACA used to separate white and black employees. The black workers were asked to use separate bathrooms and eating facilities.
Mary pursued a training program in Virginia schools to become an aerospace engineer. The segregation into blacks and whites was prevalent in educational facilities too. She asked for special permission to study with white peers. Along with her work, Mary took night classes to study physics and mathematics.
After completing her advanced engineering classes, she became the first black female engineer at NASA in 1958. National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) was dissolved into the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in the same year.
After working as an engineer for almost 20 years, Mary was qualified for the management-level position, but she didn’t take it. So in 1979, she quit the engineering department.
Instead, Mary took a demotion to become a manager of NASA’s Federal women program. Her life’s aim was to enhance the opportunities for all women at the organization. Mary wanted to make a change and help women and other minorities to achieve a breakthrough in their career.
She guided the next generation of NASA’s women workers from different fields.
Her life at NASA ended when she retired in 1985.
Mary Jackson died in 2005 at the age of 83. Many years after her death, her contribution to science was recognized. And she was posthumously awarded the Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act in 2019.
Mary Jackson in “Hidden Figures”
Astronaut John Glenn made history in February 1962 as the first American to orbit Earth. And he returned to the home in one-piece. Isn’t it wow? But do you know who the real heroes behind this success were?
Not until 2016, people know about these three women and their outstanding work. The three masterminds behind the success of the USA’s first airspace mission are Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, and Dorothy Vaughan. The Book “Hidden Figures” is written and made into a movie to honor their valuable contribution to the space program.
The inspiring stories of them are penned down by Margot Lee Shetterly. The book unravels the not so known stories of Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan., black ladies working in NASA. Their great mathematical minds restored the USA’s confidence during the 1960s.
It was them who helped the USA to win the space race with Former USSR (Russia) while surviving the prejudices and inequalities based on gender and skin color.
Hidden Figures was adapted into a movie in 2016. The biographical drama is directed by Theodore Melfi. The star cast includes Janelle Monáe, Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Jim Parsons, Kirsten Dunst, etc.
The character of Mary Jackson is portrayed by singer and actor Janelle Monáe. In an interview, she said,” I am proud to be a part of a story so many people didn’t know about. These [women] are our true American heroes..”.
NASA embraces their inputs in the success of early space flight. While announcing the renaming of their headquarter, Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator, said,” 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.
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.”