Her story and history may have been brought to prominence through the film Hidden Figures starring Janelle Monáe but aerospace engineer and mathematician Mary W. Jackson is a “hidden figure” no more. In a moving ceremony, NASA officials recently renamed their D.C. headquarters in Jackson’s honor.
The newly named Mary W. Jackson NASA headquarters honors the work and legacy of Jackson, who was the agency’s first Black woman engineer.
“Jackson’s story is one of incredible determination. She personified NASA’s spirit of persevering against all odds, providing inspiration and advancing science and exploration,” said NASA acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk in the largely virtual ceremony. “There is no denying that she faced innumerable challenges in her work, work that would eventually help send the first Americans to space.”
Jackson was one of the subjects profiled by Margot Lee Shetterly in her 2016 book, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. The book was later adapted into the film Hidden Figures starring Monáe, Octavia Spencer, and Taraji P. Henson. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actress for Spencer, and Best Picture.
ABC News’ Catherine Thorbecke reported on the NASA naming ceremony, which included a number of prominent speakers like poet Nikki Giovanni, who read from her acclaimed poem collection, Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea, as well as Jackson’s grandchildren, Wanda and Bryan Jackson.
“Grandma was a very loving, caring, and feisty woman,” Wanda Jackson said. “She was that type of person who would do anything for anybody, no questions asked.”
Bryan Jackson added that his beloved grandmother “paved the way for so many without us even knowing.”
Mary W. Jackson died in 2005 at the age of 83 without getting to truly see her groundbreaking work celebrated.