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Celebrating Black History Month by Remembering the Women of NASA

Black History Month is a month of observance, and a chance to celebrate Black achievement in the U.S. Bryan University would like to bring appreciation and acknowledgement to those within the Black community who have contributed to history by honoring the lives of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, and Katherine Johnson. Without these women, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics’s (NACA), early space missions would not have been possible.

In 1935, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), a precursor of NASA, hired hundreds of women as Computers. This job meant that you would conduct mathematical equations by hand. This was a new concept in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. During World War II, the computer pool needed to expand, which led to the recruitment of African-American women with college degrees. However, because of segregation policies, these women had to work in separate wings of NACA, the West Wing.

As the years passed and the center evolved, the West Wing Computers soared to new heights. Women became engineers and electronic computers. If it weren’t for women like Dorothy, Mary, and Katherine, John Glenn would never have been the first American to enter orbit in 1962.

Mary Jackson retired from NASA as an engineer after 30 years of service. She then became an equal opportunity specialist to help women and minorities.

Katherine Johnson’s trajectory analysis helped launch Project Apollo and assisted with several missions in the early 1960s. After 33 years of working at NASA, Katherine retired and later received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.

Dorothy Vaughan became the first black supervisor at NACA in 1949 and advocated for fair pay if merited for her team. She was an excellent programmer and assisted with several satellite launches. After 28 years, Dorothy retired from NASA and continued to advocate for women in the field.

A recently released movie, Hidden Figures, tells the story of Mary’s, Dorothy’s, and Katherine’s journey at NASA and how they played an enormous role in the success of missions, but inspired and paved the way for many Black women today. 

We encourage you to learn more about Black History Month and members of the Black community who have greatly contributed to American history and culture.

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