NASA Names DC Headquarters After Mary Jackson, Its First Black Female Engineer

Mary W Jackson became the first African American female engineer to work at NASA in 1958.

Ria Das
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Renowned mathematician and aerospace engineer, Mary W Jackson kicked off her career at NASA nearly seventy years ago. Today, in honour of her long-serving science career, its headquarters in Washington DC will be named after her, BBC reported. Jackson became the first African American female engineer to work at NASA in 1958. During her tenure at the agency, Jackson had her computer lab in a segregated unit at a research center in Virginia.


NASA’s DC headquarters (currently unnamed) will now be known as the “Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters building” after the ‘Hidden Figure’ Mary Jackson, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement on Wednesday. She died in 2005 at the age of 83 and in 2019 her work was recognized and celebrated with the Congressional Gold Medal award.

Jackson was also one of the four women at NASA whose stories were documented in the book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. The book was later made into the film Hidden Figures, Janelle Monáe portrayed the role of Jackson.

What You Should Know

  • NASA will name its Washington DC headquarters after Mary Jackson, the first African-American woman engineer at the agency.
  • Jackson, who died in 2005, is one of the women who inspired the film Hidden Figures.
  • Jackson began her career at NASA as a mathematician in a research center.

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said that Jackson had “helped to break down barriers for African Americans and women in engineering and technology.”

Born in Hampton, Virginia, Jackson started her career at NASA working as a mathematician in a research center. She went on to be known as one of the “human computers” at the facility. "Hidden no more, we will continue to recognise the contributions of women, African Americans, and people of all backgrounds who have made Nasa's successful history of exploration possible," Bridenstine said.


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Talking more about her achievement, Bridenstine added, "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."

Jackson's induction at NASA

It was only in the 1940s that NASA began recruiting African-American women as "human computers", but they couldn't avoid racial and gender discrimination at work. Jackson, who worked as a teacher at a school in Maryland, joined in in the year of 1951 by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics and worked under Dorothy Vaughan - another Hidden Figures - in the segregated West Area Computing Unit at Langley, Virginia.

She started as a mathematician, worked as a human computer for two years, and promoted to engineer in 1958.

“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 a NASA statement. “There, she received hands-on experience conducting experiments. Her supervisor eventually suggested she enter a training program that would allow Jackson to earn a promotion from mathematician to engineer. Because the classes were held at then-segregated Hampton High School, Jackson needed special permission to join her white peers in the classroom. Jackson completed the courses, earned the promotion, and in 1958 became NASA’s first Black female engineer,” the statement further said.


Jackson retired from NASA in 1985. Her daughter, Carolyn Lewis, said the family is elated by the honour. "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," she said.

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Feature Image Credit: Forbes

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