'A hidden figure no longer': NASA officially names DC headquarters after Mary W. Jackson

A ceremony Friday paid tribute to NASA's first Black woman engineer.

February 26, 2021, 3:13 PM

NASA officially named its headquarters in the nation's capital after Mary W. Jackson, the agency's first Black woman engineer, with a ceremony honoring her legacy on Friday.

"With the official naming of the Mary W. Jackson NASA headquarters, we ensure that she is a hidden figure no longer," NASA acting Administrator Steve Jurczyk said during Friday's ceremony, which was largely virtual due to the pandemic.

PHOTO: This 1977 photo made available by NASA shows engineer Mary W. Jackson at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.
This 1977 photo made available by NASA shows engineer Mary W. Jackson at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.
NASA

"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," Jurczyk added. "There is no denying that she faced innumerable challenges in her work, work that would eventually help send the first Americans to space."

Because of engineers like Jackson, Jurczyk said, "America and the world was not only able to dream of landing among the stars but to make that dream a reality."

PHOTO:Mary W. Jackson speaks at the Federal Women's Program at the Langley Research Center in an undated handout photo from NASA.
Mary W. Jackson speaks at the Federal Women's Program at the Langley Research Center in an undated handout photo from NASA.
NASA

Jackson's work was spotlighted in the 2016 Margot Lee Shetterly book, "Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race."

The book was turned into the Oscar-nominated movie "Hidden Figures" later that same year, with actress Janelle Monae portraying Jackson.

The virtual ceremony Friday featured a slew of speakers who honored Jackson's work, including poet Nikki Giovanni, who read an excerpt from her work, "Quilting the Black-Eyed Pea."

Two of the trailblazing engineer's grandchildren, Wanda Jackson and Bryan Jackson, also spoke at the event Friday. Mary W. Jackson died in 2005 at 83 years old.

PHOTO: Mary W. Jackson, Aerospace Engineer in the Large Supersonic Tunnels Branch of Full-Scale Research Division, explains the facilities used in testing research models such as SCAT in an undated handout image from NASA.
Mary W. Jackson, Aerospace Engineer in the Large Supersonic Tunnels Branch of Full-Scale Research Division, explains the facilities used in testing research models such as SCAT in an undated handout image from NASA.
NASA
PHOTO: The NASA Headquarters building stands on June 26, 2020 in Washington, DC.
The NASA Headquarters building stands on June 26, 2020 in Washington, DC.
NASA

"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."

Wanda Jackson reflected on visiting the NASA headquarters as a child when her grandmother was in training, and how despite the myriad of accomplishments, "she never gloated or bragged about anything she did."

While she is being honored publicly now, an emotional Wanda Jackson said, "she was always special to us."

PHOTO: Wanda Jackson speaks NASA Ceremony to Name Headquarters after her grandmother "Hidden Figure" Mary W. Jackson, Hampton, Va., Feb. 26, 2021.
Wanda Jackson speaks NASA Ceremony to Name Headquarters after her grandmother "Hidden Figure" Mary W. Jackson, Hampton, Va., Feb. 26, 2021.
NASA via Facebook

"She was always our hero," she said. "She was always our star."

Bryan Jackson said his grandmother "paved the way for so many without us even knowing."

PHOTO: Bryan Jackson speaks NASA Ceremony to Name Headquarters after his grandmother "Hidden Figure" Mary W. Jackson, Hampton, Va., Feb. 26, 2021.
Bryan Jackson speaks NASA Ceremony to Name Headquarters after his grandmother "Hidden Figure" Mary W. Jackson, Hampton, Va., Feb. 26, 2021.
NASA via Facebook

"She was a warrior," Bryan Jackson said. "Someone who wouldn't take no for an answer if she felt she was making a change to better something."

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