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NASA names headquarters after Mary Jackson, agency’s first Black female engineer

Headquarters first NASA center not named after a white man

Mary Jackson had a successful career from "human computer" to NASA's first African-American female engineer, and subsequent career supporting the hiring and promotion of other deserving female and minority employees.
Credits: NASA
Mary Jackson had a successful career from "human computer" to NASA's first African-American female engineer, and subsequent career supporting the hiring and promotion of other deserving female and minority employees. Credits: NASA (WKMG 2020)

NASA announced it will name its Washington, D.C. headquarters building after the space agency’s first Black female engineer, Mary Jackson.

Jackson, a mathematician and aerospace engineer, becomes the first person who is neither white or male to become the namesake of a key NASA location.

Jackson, who was played by actor Janelle Monáe in the movie “Hidden Figures,” started her NASA career at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. She went on to lead programs influencing the hiring and promotion of women in NASA’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers.

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

Jackson began her career with NASA in 1951 as a mathematician becoming a human-computer and in 1958, became NASA’s first Black female engineer. She retired from Langley in 1985.

Jackson died in 2005.

In 2019, she was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.

Prior to the headquarters new name, nine out of 10 of NASA centers were named after white men: Ames Research Center, Armstrong Flight Research Center, Glenn Research Center, Goddard Spaceflight Center, Johnson Space Center, Kennedy Space Center, Langley Research Center, Marshall Space Flight Center and Stennis Space Center. The 10th facility, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California is not named after a person.

NASA previously named a facility after Katherine Johnson, who was among the agency’s first Black women computer scientists. The Katherine Johnson Independent Verification and Validation Facility is located in Fairmont, West Virginia.

Recently, there have been calls to renamed NASA’s Stennis Space Center, which is named after the late Mississippi Sen. John C. Stennis, who was known as a segregationist.

Below is a breakdown of all the NASA facilities and who they are named after, note Jackson is the only woman and person of color now on this list:

Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters: NASA mathematician and engineer Mary Jackson

Ames Research Center: Dr. Joseph Ames, an aerodynamicist and the former president of Johns Hopkins University.

Armstrong Flight Research Center: NASA Astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to step on the moon.

Glenn Research Center: NASA astronaut John Glenn, the first American to orbit Earth.

Goddard Spaceflight Center: Dr. Robert Hutchings Goddard, known as the father of modern rocketry.

Johnson Space Center: President Lyndon B. Johnson

Kennedy Space Center: President John F. Kennedy

Langley Research Center: Dr. Samuel P. Langley, secretary of the Smithsonian Institution.

Marshall Space Flight Center: Army Gen. George Marshall, chief of staff during World War II, secretary of state and 1954 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Stennis Space Center: Mississippi Sen. John Stennis.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory: The facility in California is not named after a person.


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