Mary JacksonNASA's 1st Black Female Engineer
Who is Mary W. Jackson?
Mary was born Mary Winston on April 09, 1921, in Hampton, Virginia, and died in the city in which she was born on February 11, 2005. She was one of the elite mathematicians in the early days at NASA who were known as Human Computers. She was also the first black woman at NASA to hold the position of Engineer.
Her Early Life and Education
Mary went to the all-black George P. Phenix Training School in Virginia where she graduated at the top of her class. From there she went on to receive two Bachelor’s Degrees, one in mathematics and one in Physical Science from Hampton University. After school, she taught math at a segregated Black school for a year, then went on to work as a bookkeeper, and finally took a job as a clerk at the Office of the Chief Army Field Forces at Fort Monroe in 1951. Almost immediately, she was recruited by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) which later became NASA. Ms. Jackson worked in the segregated West Area Computing Section at Langley under Dorothy Vaughan.
Her Contributions at NASA
Mary Jackson was the first African-American woman to work as an engineer at NASA. She was also a brilliant mathematician who helped design the Saturn V rocket that launched Apollo 11 into space. Jackson’s career at NASA began with her working as a “computer” – someone who did calculations by hand before computers existed – during the launch of America’s first satellite, Explorer 1. She later became an expert in aeronautics and structural engineering and worked on major projects for both NASA and private companies like Boeing.
According to NASA,
Mary helped the youngsters in the science club at Hampton’s King Street Community center build their own wind tunnel and use it to conduct experiments. “We have to do something like this to get them interested in science,” she said in an article for the local newspaper. “Sometimes they are not aware of the number of black scientists, and don’t even know of the career opportunities until it is too late.”
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