NASA renames Washington headquarters to honour 'hidden figures' scientist Mary Jackson
Mary Jackson worked at NASA for 34 years, starting as a research mathematician, and eventually became the agency's first Black female engineer.
NASA has renamed its Washington headquarters after "hidden figures" Mary Jackson, the administration's first African American female engineer.
In a ceremony, NASA on Friday formally named the agency's headquarters building in Washington in Jackson's honour.
Jackson began working at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) - the forerunner of NASA - in April 1951.
Jackson worked at NASA for 34 years, starting as a research mathematician, and eventually became the agency's first Black female engineer. Jackson's pioneering efforts and commitment to helping others have inspired generations - both at NASA and beyond, NASA said in a statement.
The work of Jackson and others in Langley's West Area Computing Unit caught widespread national attention in the 2016 Margot Lee Shetterly book "Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race."
In 2019, Jackson was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian honour, under the Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act.
"With the official naming of the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters today, we ensure that she is a hidden figure no longer," said acting NASA Administrator Steve Jurczyk.
"Jackson's story is one of incredible determination. She personified NASA's spirit of persevering against all odds, providing inspiration and advancing science and exploration," Jurczyk added.
In addition to unveiling a building sign with Jackson's name, Friday's event featured video tributes with reflections on Jackson's career and legacy from a variety of individuals, including family and friends, current and former NASA employees and astronauts, celebrities, elected officials, and others.
The event also featured a video of poet Nikki Giovanni reading an excerpt from her poem "Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea," which is about space and civil rights.
Jackson was born and raised in Hampton, Virginia. She initially worked as a math teacher in Calvert County, Maryland, and also held jobs as a bookkeeper and as a U.S. Army secretary before beginning her aerospace career.
In 1942, she received a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics and physical science from Hampton Institute (now Hampton University).
Looking to be promoted from mathematician to engineer, Jackson needed to complete graduate math and physics courses at a high school that was then segregated. Jackson completed the courses, earned the promotion, and in 1958 became NASA's first African American female engineer.
For nearly two decades during her engineering career, she authored or co-authored numerous research reports, most of which focused on the behaviour of the boundary layer of air around aeroplanes.
In 1979, she joined Langley's Federal Women's Program, where she worked hard to address the hiring and promotion of the next generation of female mathematicians, engineers, and scientists.
She retired from Langley in 1985 and passed away in Hampton on February 11, 2005, at the age of 83. She was preceded in death by her husband, Levi Jackson Sr., and was survived by her son, Levi Jackson Jr., and her daughter, Carolyn Marie Lewis.