NASA to name DC headquarters after 'hidden figure' Mary W. Jackson

Mary W. Jackson was once a "hidden figure" at NASA, but now her name will grace the agency's office in the nation's capital.

NASA announced on Wednesday that its Washington, D.C., headquarters will be renamed in honor of Jackson, the agency's first Black female engineer and who spent decades juggling complex research with pushing for more diversity in scientific fields.

"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," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement.

Jackson, a Hampton, Virginia native, earned a degree in math and physical sciences in 1942 and worked as a teacher, bookkeeper and Army secretary before she joined NASA's predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, in 1951. She worked on several engineering projects, including ones that involved the Supersonic Pressure Tunnel, and her supervisor suggested she enter a training program to be promoted to engineer.

Jackson needed special permission to attend the classes since they took place at the then-segregated Hampton High School. She eventually earned the promotion in 1958. As an engineer, she worked on studies mostly focused on the behavior of the boundary layer of air around airplanes, NASA said.

In 1979, she worked at Langley's Federal Women's Program and advocated for more women and minorities to be hired in math and science fields. Jackson retired in 1985, and she died about 20 years later.

"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," Carolyn Lewis, Jackson's daughter, said in a statement.

Jackson's work, along with that of other Black female NASA scientists, was highlighted in the 2016 book "Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race." Janelle Monáe portrayed Jackson in the film adaptation that came out the same year.

Last year, Jackson and "Hidden Figures" colleagues Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Christine Darden were awarded Congressional Gold Medals, and Congress voted to rename the street outside NASA's D.C. headquarters Hidden Figures Way.