Mary Jackson was an African-American mathematician, aerospace engineer, and NASA trailblazer. Born on April 9, 1921, in Hampton, Virginia, she played a pivotal role in breaking down barriers for African-American women in the field of engineering and made significant contributions to the space program. Mary Jackson’s determination and achievements have had a lasting impact on the scientific community.
Mary Jackson’s passion for mathematics and science was evident from an early age. She graduated from Hampton Institute (now Hampton University) in 1942 with degrees in Mathematics and Physical Science. She then pursued a teaching career before accepting a position as a research mathematician at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which later became NASA.
In 1951, Mary Jackson was encouraged by her supervisor to join a training program that aimed to promote African-American employees to engineering positions. Despite facing many challenges due to racial and gender discrimination, she successfully completed the program and became NASA’s first African-American female engineer.
Throughout her career, Jackson made significant contributions to the field of aerospace engineering. She specialized in aerodynamics and conducted extensive research on airflow around aircraft. Her expertise in wind tunnel experiments and data analysis was instrumental in improving aircraft design and performance.
Mary Jackson’s work extended beyond her technical contributions. She was actively involved in promoting diversity and equality within NASA. She worked as an advocate for women and minorities, striving to create opportunities for underrepresented groups in the field of engineering. Jackson’s determination and advocacy helped pave the way for future generations of African-American engineers and scientists.
After more than three decades of service, Mary Jackson retired from NASA in 1985. Her exceptional achievements and contributions were recognized in various ways. In 1979, she received the Outstanding Performance Award from NASA for her work in aerodynamics. Additionally, she was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, one of the highest civilian honors in the United States, in 2019.
The story of Mary Jackson became well-known after the movie “Hidden Figures” was released in 2016. The movie highlighted the achievements of Jackson and other African-American women mathematicians working at NASA, including Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan. The film brought attention to their important contributions and the obstacles they had to overcome.
Mary Jackson’s legacy continues to inspire and serve as a reminder of the importance of diversity and inclusion in scientific and technological fields. Her determination, expertise, and advocacy efforts have not only advanced the space program but also paved the way for future generations of underrepresented individuals to pursue careers in STEM disciplines.