In 1951, a young woman from Hampton, Virginia joined the racially-segregated computing pool at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics – the agency that later became NASA. 70 years later, amid growing unrest over racial inequality and at the end of a historic month for American crewed spaceflight, NASA renamed its headquarters building in her honor. As of June 24, the Washington, D.C. building which houses the space agency’s leadership is officially the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters.
“NASA facilities across the country are named after people who dedicated their lives to push the frontiers of the aerospace industry,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement to the press. “Mary W. Jackson was part of a group of very important women who helped NASA succeed in getting American astronauts into space.”
When Jackson (born Mary Winston) joined NACA in 1951, the agency’s Langley Research Center was segregated along strict racial lines. The black women of the West Area Computing Unit worked under the leadership of Dorothy Vaughan in a separate building from the white women of the east section, who had the same job titles and qualifications and did the same work.