They say that there is nothing more honest and revealing than time, which always exhibits lies and exposes the truth. We could not agree more with these statements, and Mary Jackson’s story proves it.
To this wonderful woman, Time gave him all the recognition he deserved thanks to his work at NASA and his effort to eradicate machismo and racism that reigned from the 1950s to the 1980s.
Some will already know this name (surely from Hidden Figures) and they will know where we are going, but for those who still do not know it, there are a couple of reasons behind it. Reasons that represented great obstacles for Mary Jackson: being a woman, an Afro-descendant woman.
Mary Jackson was born in Hampton, Virginia in 1921. She was a mathematician and aerospace engineer on the National Aeronautical Advisory Committee (NACA) that in 1958 was succeeded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (POT).
His work, in the shadows for years, was instrumental in achieving the feat of putting a human on the Moon for the first time. Fortunately, time is on his side, and his story begins to go viral as it should have in 1970.
From a young age, Jackson showed that it was made of another material. She graduated from the George P. Phenix Training School (all black) with the highest honors. Later, her love of numbers led her to Hampton University where he studied a degree in Mathematics and Physical Sciences in 1942.
After being a math teacher for a few years in segregated schools for black people, as was the custom in the southern United States, and working as a receptionist at a health institute, Mary Jackson was recruited by the National Aeronautical Advisory Committee (NACA) in 1951. There she began working as a research mathematician. From then on, her story and that of NASA would never be the same.
His time at NASA
Two years after joining NACA, Mary Jackson accepted an offer to work for engineer Kazimierz Czarnecki in the Supersonic Pressure Tunnel project. This tunnel helped study the forces to improve American planes with winds almost twice the speed of sound.
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His work was so good, that Czarnecki encouraged Jackson to study more so that she could be promoted to engineering. I needed to take graduate courses in Mathematics and Physics to qualify for the job, but these programs were only offered in an evening program by the University of Virginia exclusively for white people.
A giant problem … but small for Mary Jackson. Moving some threads and swimming against the current, She was accepted and she took all the necessary courses to be able to take the next step in her career. After completing them, she was promoted to aerospace engineer in 1958 and became NASA’s first black engineer.
After getting this title, Mary Jackson worked in various divisions of NASA it included the Division of Compressibility Research, High Speed Aerodynamics and Subsonic-Transonic Aerodynamics.
She was also the co-author of 12 white papers for NASA that significantly helped Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon. Jackson also worked to help women and other minorities advance their careers by advising them on how to study to qualify for promotions.
His work for women and minorities
By now, it’s fair to say that it took Mary Jackson more than sweat to get where she was. She obtained the most important title within the Engineering Department and nobody had given her absolutely nothing. However, Mary made a sacrifice in her position to become an administrator in the field of Equal Opportunity Specialist.
In 1979 she began working to make changes and highlight the women and other minorities who were made in the field. She served as Manager of the Federal Women’s Program in the Office of Equal Opportunities, as well as She helped influence the career paths of women in science, engineering, and math positions at NASA until her retirement in 1985.
Hidden Figures and its recognition 30 years later
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Who Helped Win the Space Race It is the name of the 2016 Margot Lee Shetterly book where she exposes the story of Mary Jackson along with other equally magnificent women. The book follows their careers at NASA and specifically their work on the Mercury Project during the space race.
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The same year, a movie called Hidden Figures directed by Theodore Melfi and based on Shetterly’s book. This tape helped spread her incredible life story that for years remained hidden. Her role was played by Janelle Monáe.
From these two works, his story became so great that it reached the Mary Jackson headquarters of NASA. Yes, they read well. Today the most important NASA buildings are named after him to honor his memory and career.
This happened on June 24, 2020 when Jim Bridenstine, NASA administrator, made the official announcement. “Mary W Jackson was part of a group of very important women who helped NASA succeed in bringing American astronauts into space.”Bridenstine said.
“Mary never accepted the status quo, she helped break down barriers and open opportunities for African Americans and women in the field of engineering and technology.”he continued. “Hidden No More will continue to recognize the contributions of women, African Americans, and people of all backgrounds that have made NASA’s successful exploration history possible,” Bridenstine said in the statement.
Mary Jackson passed away in 2005 at age 83 in her hometown of Hapton, Virginia. Although her greatest recognitions came late, today the world does her justice and honors her life by talking about her and putting her in the place she deserves.
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