NASA Renames Headquarters after Its First Black Female Engineer Mary W. Jackson

Jackson worked for over two decades at NASA as a trained mathematician and an aerospace engineer.
Fabienne Lang

Wednesday marked the day that NASA announced it is naming its headquarters in Washington D.C. after Mary W. Jackson, the space agency's first Black American female engineer. 

The agency's administrator, Jim Bridenstine, made the announcement on Wednesday. 


From hidden figure to international recognition

"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 Bridenstine.

"Today, we proudly announce the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters building. 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."

NASA Renames Headquarters after Its First Black Female Engineer Mary W. Jackson
Source: NASA Langley Research Center/Wikimedia Commons

What did Jackson do at NASA?

Jackson started working in NASA's segregated West Area Computing Unit, in the agency's Langley Research Center in Virginia in 1951. Back then NASA was called the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, and in 1958 in was succeeded by the NASA we know today. 

Jackson began her NASA career as a research mathematician, which garnered her the description of human-computer at Langley. She then moved on to work in the 4-foot by 4-foot Supersonic Pressure Tunnel, which was a 60,000 horsepower wind tunnel that was able to blast models with winds almost twice as fast as the speed of sound.

Jackson then moved on to further her studies through a training program, after which she could become an engineer. This led Jackson to become NASA's first-ever Black female engineer. She worked for over two decades as an engineer for the agency.

Jackson was a trained mathematician and an aerospace engineer who ultimately led programs that helped influence the hiring and promotion of women working for NASA.

She retired in 1985.

NASA Renames Headquarters after Its First Black Female Engineer Mary W. Jackson
The Mary W. Jackson NASA headquarters in D.C., Source: NASA 

Bridenstine explained part of the motivation for naming their headquarters after the memorable engineer that Jackson was "NASA facilities across the country are named after people who dedicated their lives to push the frontiers of the aerospace industry."

"The nation is beginning to awaken to the greater need to honor the full diversity of people who helped pioneer our great nation. Over the years NASA has worked to honor the work of these Hidden Figures in various ways, including naming facilities, renaming streets, and celebrating their legacy."

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