The mathematician's story was chronicled in the 2016 film Hidden Figures.
On Wednesday, NASA announced their D.C. headquarters would be named after mathemetician and aerospace engineer Mary W. Jackson. The agency honored the late engineer's contributions to the fields of math and science research, as well as expanding opportunities for African Americans, and particularly women, in STEM.
NASA's headquarters partly fall on E Street SW, which has been named "Hidden Figures Way" following a bi-partisan bill passed by Congress in 2019.
“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 in a press release.
Jackson was employed at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics in 1951 before securing a position at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. In the segregated West Area Computing Unit overseen by Dorothy Vaughan, she worked as a "human computer" or research mathematician, and this experience qualified her for promotion to engineer.
However, classes at the all-white Hampton High School were required for consideration, which she would need to seek permission. Eventually, she would fulfill these courses and become NASA's first black female engineer in 1958.
During her tenure, Jackson co-authored research reports and advocated for diverse hiring practices through the Langely Federal Women's Program until her retirement in 1985. She passed away in 2005 at the age of 83.
Her story, alongside Vaughan and Katherine Johnson, was chronicled in the book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly and adapted into the 2016 movie starring musician Janelle Monae as Jackson. In 2019 she was posthumously honored with the signing of the Hidden Figures Congressional Act alongside her colleagues.
Jackson's daughter Carolyn Lewis expressed pride in the agency's recognition of her mother, saying in a statement, "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.”
Bridenstine echoed these statements and emphasized NASA's role in honoring these achievements: "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.”
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