NASA to rename headquarters after Mary W. Jackson, its first African American female engineer

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  • The US space agency's headquarters building will sit on ‘Hidden Figures Way’ in Washington
  • Her work with two other history-making Black mathematicians, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan, helped America win the Space Race
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NASA has announced it will rename its headquarters building after Mary Winston Jackson, its first female African American engineer.

NASA will rename its headquarters building in Washington after Mary W. Jackson, its first African American female engineer, it revealed in a news release on Wednesday.

“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 statement.

Mary Jackson (first row, far right) was instrumental in helping the US win the space race.“Today, we proudly announce the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters building. It appropriately sits on ‘Hidden Figures Way,’ a reminder that Mary is one of many incredible and talented professionals in NASA’s history who contributed to this agency’s success. 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.”

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Jackson graduated with bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and physical science from Hampton University, a historically Black university, in 1942. She was a mathematician and aerospace engineer who started her NASA career in the segregated West Area Computing Unit of the agency’s Langley Research Centre in Hampton, Virginia. She was recruited by the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in April 1951. NACA was succeeded by NASA in 1958, where she worked until her retirement in 1985.

She worked along with two other history-making Black mathematicians, Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan, during the space race. The women’s stories were told in Margot Lee Shetterly’s 2016 non-fiction book Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race. It was also adapted into a motion picture that same year. Jackson was portrayed by Janelle Monáe in the film.

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Jackson died in 2005 at the age of 83. In 2019, President Donald Trump signed the Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act, which posthumously honoured Jackson. It also honored Johnson, Vaughan and Christine Darden, who joined NASA’s pool of “human computers” in 1967.

“We are honoured that NASA continues to celebrate the legacy of our mother and grandmother Mary W. Jackson,” Carolyn Lewis, Jackson’s daughter, said 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.”

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