Mary Winston-Jackson
Tech History

Mary Winston-Jackson – Black History Month

In honor of Rosa Park’s Day today in California, I’d like to highlight another spectacular women during the Civil Rights movement– one of the very special women taking the lead in NASA (and the real woman behind Janae Monae’s role in Hidden Figures): Mary Winston-Jackson.

Mary Winston-Jackson, mathematician and aerospace engineer at NASA

Education and Early Career

Mary Jackson earned bachelor’s degrees in mathematics and physical science from Hampton Institute in 1942. Jackson would end up working several jobs prior to joining National Aeronautics and Space Administration (previously National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) as a research mathemetician in 1951.

Scientific Contributions

In 1953, she accepted an offer to work for engineer Kazimierz Czarnecki in the Supersonic Pressure Tunnel, which was used to study forces by generating winds at almost twice the speed of sound. Czarnecki encouraged her to take graduate-level classes to which she would eventually complete (after Jackson petitioned the City of Hampton to allow her to attend the classes). She would study air flow, including thrust and drag forces, which was used to improve United States planes. She worked under Dorothy Vaughan in the segregated West Area Computing Section starting in 1958.

Jackson worked as an engineer in several NASA divisions and ultimately authored or co-authored 12 technical papers for NACA and NASA. After 34 years at NASA, Jackson had achieved the most senior title within the engineering department. In 1978 she would take a demotion to several roles, including became a human resources administrator, to advise other black women on how to study in order to qualify for promotions as well as influence the career paths of women in science, engineering, and mathematics positions at NASA. She retired from NASA in 1985.

Awards & Honors

Along with Jackson’s many academic contributions, she was known for her years of teaching and tutoring high school and college students and receiving awards such as: Daniels Alumni Award for Outstanding Service to Disadvantaged Youth, National Council of Negro Women, Inc. Certificate of Recognition for Outstanding Service to the Community, and Langley Research Center Volunteer of the Year.


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