Mary Jackson was born in 1921, and since then her love of science and her commitment to improving the lives of others around her were her highest priorities. She graduated from Hampton Institute in 1942 with a dual degree in Math and Physical Sciences, and accepted a job as a math teacher at a black school in Calvert County, Maryland. Hampton had become one of the nerve centers of the World War II home front effort, and after a year of teaching, Mary returned home. After a job as an Army secretary at Fort Monroe, Mary landed at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory’s segregated West Area Computing section in 1951, reporting to the group’s supervisor Dorothy Vaughan.
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. Czarnecki offered Mary hands-on experience conducting experiments in the facility, and eventually suggested that she enter a training program that would allow her to earn a promotion from mathematician to engineer. Mary needed special permission to study graduate level maths and physics alongside her white peers in the segregated Hampton High School. Mary completed the courses, earned the promotion, and in 1958 became NASA’s first black female engineer.
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