Mary Jackson was an African-American mathematician and aerospace engineer who played a significant role in breaking gender and racial barriers in the field of science and engineering.
Her life and achievements continue to inspire generations of young women, particularly those from underrepresented communities. In this article, we will take a closer look at her life, work, and legacy, including the age at which she passed away.
Early Life and Education
Mary Winston Jackson was born on April 9, 1921, in Hampton, Virginia. She grew up in a racially segregated society, where access to quality education and job opportunities was limited for African Americans. However, Jackson’s parents instilled in her a love for learning and encouraged her to pursue her dreams despite the odds.
Jackson attended the all-black Hampton High School and excelled in academics, particularly mathematics and science. After graduating in 1937, she went on to attend Hampton Institute, now known as Hampton University, where she earned a dual degree in Mathematics and Physical Science in 1942.
Career in NASA
After completing her education, Jackson began working as a math teacher in Maryland. However, her passion for science and technology led her to apply for a position at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which later became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
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In 1951, Jackson was hired as a “computer” at the Langley Research Center in Virginia, where she performed complex mathematical calculations by hand. She was one of the few women and African Americans in her department, and her talent and dedication soon caught the attention of her supervisors.
In 1958, Jackson was promoted to the position of aerospace engineer, becoming the first African-American woman to hold such a role at NASA. She worked on several high-profile projects, including the Mercury and Apollo missions, and played a key role in developing wind tunnels and flight tests for space vehicles.
Throughout her career, Jackson faced numerous challenges due to her gender and race, but she persevered and made significant contributions to the field of aerospace engineering. She also worked tirelessly to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace and served as a mentor to many young scientists and engineers.
In 1979, Jackson retired from NASA after a distinguished career spanning over three decades. She went on to become an advocate for equal opportunities in education and employment and was actively involved in community service and outreach.
Death and Legacy
Mary Jackson passed away on February 11, 2005, at the age of 83, due to complications from a long-term illness. Her legacy continues to inspire and motivate people from all walks of life, particularly women and minorities, to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).
In 2019, NASA renamed the street outside its headquarters in Washington, D.C., as “Hidden Figures Way” in honor of Jackson and her fellow “human computers,” Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan, whose contributions to the space program were previously overlooked.
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Jackson’s life story was also depicted in the critically acclaimed 2016 film, “Hidden Figures,” which brought her achievements and struggles to a wider audience.
Mary Jackson was a trailblazing mathematician and engineer whose legacy continues to inspire and motivate generations of young women and minorities.
Her determination, talent, and resilience in the face of adversity broke down barriers and opened doors for future generations of scientists and engineers. As we celebrate her life and legacy, let us remember her message that anything is possible if we have the courage and determination to pursue our dreams.