BLACK HISTORY MONTH PROFILE: Mary Jackson Hired in 1951, Was First Black Female NASA Engineer
By NASA // February 7, 2021
was hired by NASA's predecessor agency, the NACA
(NASA) – Mary Jackson began her engineering career in an era in which female engineers of any background were a rarity.
In 1951 when she was hired by NASA’s predecessor agency, the NACA, she very well may have been the only black female aeronautical engineer in the field.
For nearly two decades she enjoyed an engineering career, wherein she authored or co-authored nearly a dozen research reports, most focused on the behavior of the boundary layer of air around airplanes.
A native of Hampton, Virginia, she graduated from Hampton Institute in 1942 with a dual degree in Math and Physical Sciences and accepted a job as a math teacher.
In 1951, Jackson was hired to work in Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory’s segregated West Area Computing section. After two years in the computing pool, Mary 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.
In 1958, she became NASA’s first black female engineer. That same year, she co-authored her first report, Effects of Nose Angle and Mach Number on Transition on Cones at Supersonic Speeds.
Service to the community was equally as important as work. In the 1970s, she helped the youngsters in the science club at Hampton’s King Street Community center build their own wind tunnel and use it to conduct experiments.
“We have to do something like this to get them interested in science,” she said in an article for the local newspaper. “Sometimes they are not aware of the number of black scientists, and don’t even know of the career opportunities until it is too late.”
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