According to a news release published June 24, Jackson, a mathematician and aerospace engineer, began her career at NASA in the segregated West Area Computing Unit of the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
Virginia-born Jackson then continued to head programs influencing the hiring and promotion of women in NASA’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers, the release states.
She was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2019—an award bestowed by the U.S. Congress. She retired from NASA in 1985 and died in 2005.
“Mary W. Jackson was part of a group of very important women who helped NASA succeed in getting American astronauts into space,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement, announcing the news.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Bridenstine later said on Twitter that a formal naming ceremony will be held in the near future.
NASA’s Headquarters will be named the Mary W Jackson NASA Headquarters. Mary Jackson was @NASA‘s first African-American female engineer. She elevated America’s space program & led towards inclusion. Looking forward to holding a formal naming ceremony soon. https://t.co/R5tYNKPYNS pic.twitter.com/vKuIzMwpGN
— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) June 24, 2020
“NASA’s Headquarters will be named the Mary W Jackson NASA Headquarters. Mary Jackson was @NASA‘s first African-American female engineer,” he wrote. “She elevated America’s space program & led towards inclusion.”
Jackson’s work, along with that of two other black mathematicians at NASA—Katherine Johnson and Dorothy Vaughan—was captured in the Oscar-nominated film “Hidden Figures.”
Jackson’s daughter, Carolyn Lewis, said her family is “honored” that the agency continues to celebrate the legacy of her mother.
“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,” she said in a statement.
The renaming of the agency’s Washington headquarters follows weeks of protests across the country sparked by the in-custody death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25.
“NASA facilities across the country are named after people who dedicated their lives to push the frontiers of the aerospace industry. The nation is beginning to awaken to the greater need to honor the full diversity of people who helped pioneer our great nation. Over the years NASA has worked to honor the work of these Hidden Figures in various ways, including naming facilities, renaming streets and celebrating their legacy,” Bridenstine stated.
“We know there are many other people of color and diverse backgrounds who have contributed to our success, which is why we’re continuing the conversations started about a year ago with the agency’s Unity Campaign. NASA is dedicated to advancing diversity, and we will continue to take steps to do so.”