WASHINGTON, D.C. - (June 29, 2020) – NASA has announced they are naming the agency’s headquarters building in Washington, D.C. after Hampton University alumna Mary W. Jackson, who was the first African American female engineer at NASA and featured in the movie, “Hidden Figures.”
“Mary Jackson is featured prominently in our very own Legacy Park as an iconic figure who was not only part of the Hampton University Family, but made a lasting impact on the entire world. She was a true legacy and paved the way for other African Americans to ‘Dream no Small Dreams.’ The naming of NASA headquarters after Mary is the perfect occasion to honor this incredible pioneer,” said Hampton University President, Dr. William R. Harvey.
Jackson was born and raised in Hampton, Va., and graduated from Hampton Institute (University) in 1942 with a dual degree in math and physical sciences. After graduation, Jackson accepted a job as a math teacher at a black school in Calvert County, Maryland. She worked as a bookkeeper, an Army secretary at Fort Monroe, and started a family with husband Levi Jackson before landing a job at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory’s segregated West Area Computing section in 1951. She worked under fellow “Hidden Figure” Dorothy Vaughan and would later become known as one of the human computers at Langley.
After two years working there, Jackson received an offer to work for engineer Kazimierz Czarnecki 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. Jackson was able to receive hands-on experience conducting experiments in the facility and eventually suggested that she enter a training program that would allow her to earn a promotion from mathematician to engineer. Jackson became NASA’s first black female engineer in 1958.
“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 Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator. “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 recognize the contributions of women, African Americans, and people of all backgrounds who have made NASA’s successful history of exploration possible.”
In 2019, President Trump signed the Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act that posthumously awarded the honor to Jackson, who passed away in 2005, and her “Hidden Figures” colleagues Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Christine Darden.
In 2017, then 99-year-old Katherine Johnson was there to personally dedicate a new state-of-the-art computer research facility that bears her name at Langley. Johnson, another original member of the West Area Computing Unit, also was honored as a trailblazer and given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. In addition, Johnson was part of the group honored with the Congressional Gold Medal, and NASA’s Independent Verification and Validation facility in Fairmont, West Virginia, also bears Johnson’s name. That same year, Johnson was the keynote speaker at Hampton University’s 147th commencement ceremony.