Acting administrator of NASA, Steve Jurczyk, recently honored Hampton University alumna Mary W. Jackson in the highest way. In an official ceremony, Jurczyk named NASA’s D.C. headquarters building after her. Featured in the movie “Hidden Figures,” Mary Jackson was the first African American female NASA engineer and was instrumental to American success in the 1960’s Space Race.
“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,” said Hampton University President Dr. William R. Harvey.
Jurczyk was joined by members of Jackson’s family and other guests. In addition to unveiling a building sign with her name, the event featured video tributes to Jackson from associates and others close to her.
Jackson was raised in Hampton, Virginia, later graduating from what is now known as Hampton University in 1942 with dual degrees in math and physical sciences. After a series of jobs and starting a family, she joined the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory’s segregated West Area Computing section in 1951. There she worked under fellow “Hidden Figure” Dorothy Vaughan, becoming one of Langley’s “human computers.”
After two years Jackson received an offer to work for engineer Kazimierz Czarnecki in the 4-by-4 Supersonic Pressure Tunnel, a 60,000-horsepower wind tunnel capable of blasting models with winds approaching twice the speed of sound. Jackson received hands-on experience there and eventually entered a training program that allowed her to move from mathematician to engineer, becoming 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,” said Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator. “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. 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. Colleagues Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Christine Darden were also honored.
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, was also 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.