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Women Heroes: Mary Jackson

The achievements of Mary Jackson; the first African American female engineer in NASA.

Early life

Born on April 9, 1921, in Hampton, Virginia, to Ella Winston and Frank Winston. She graduated high school from George P. Phenix Training School with highest honors. Later she pursued a bachelor's degree in mathematics and physical science from Hampton University in 1942. Afterwards, she served as Girl Scouts leader for more than 30 years and taught mathematics at a black high school at a time when schools were still segregated.

Jackson was invited to join the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) in 1951, which was later replaced by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958. She began her career as a research mathematician, or computer, in Hampton, Virginia, at the Langley Research Center, where she was assigned to work in the West Area Computing Section, which was segregated and supervised by Dorothy Vaughan.


In 1953 she accepted an offer to work for engineer Kazimierz Czarnecki in the Supersonic Pressure Tunnel who promoted her to undergo training to be an engineer. She petitioned the City of Hampton to allow her to attend graduate-level courses in maths and physics to qualify for the job. After completing the practices, she was elevated to aerospace engineer in 1958 and became NASA's first black female engineer.

she analyzed data obtained from wind tunnel experiments and real-world aircraft flight experiments at the Theoretical Aerodynamics Branch of the Subsonic-Transonic Aerodynamics Division at Langley. her objective was to gain a better understanding of airflow, which includes thrust and drag forces, to enhance the quality of American planes.

Jackson spent 34 years at NASA and eventually rose to the top of the engineering department. However, she chose to step down from her senior position and become an administrator in the Equal Opportunity Specialist field. After receiving training at NASA Headquarters, she returned to Langley and concentrated on encouraging women and minorities who had excelled in their fields. She embraced the role of both the Federal Women's Program Manager and the Affirmative Action Program Manager in the Office of Equal Opportunity Programs, and she worked mightily to motivate women who held positions in STEM at NASA. Jackson remained at NASA until her retirement in 1985.


  • Apollo Group Achievement Award

  • named Langley’s Volunteer of the Year in 1976

  • Congressional Gold Medal.


by minnith susan nebu


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