NASA Renames HQ Building After “Hidden Figures” Engineer Mary Jackson

Jackson was NASA’s first Black woman engineer who helped the U.S. put astronauts into space, and she was part of the inspiration for the 2016 film “Hidden Figures.”

Mary Jackson worked at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia for 34 years. Credit: NASA

NASA will rename its Washington, D.C., headquarters after Mary Jackson, an aerospace engineer and mathematician whose work was part of the inspiration for the 2016 film, “Hidden Figures.”

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine made the announcement on Wednesday, saying that Jackson was part of a group of “very important women who helped NASA succeed in getting American astronauts into space.” The HQ building is located on a street that was designated in 2019 as “Hidden Figures Way.”

Jackson started working as a mathematician in 1951 for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the agency that was later succeeded by NASA. In 1958, Jackson was promoted to aerospace engineer, becoming NASA’s first Black woman engineer.

Jackson worked in the then-segregated West Area Computing Unit of NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, VA and later retired in 1985. Throughout her time with NASA, Jackson made significant contributions to advances in space exploration and championed programs that hired and promoted women at the agency. Jackson died in 2005 but was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2019, along with her colleagues Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Christine Darden. 

“Mary never accepted the status quo, she helped break barriers and open opportunities for African Americans and women in the field of engineering and technology,” Bridenstine said in the announcement. “[The building] appropriately sits on ‘Hidden Figures Way,’ a reminder that Mary is one of many incredible and talented professionals in NASA’s history who contributed to this agency’s success.”

The work of Jackson, Johnson, and Vaughan was portrayed in the 2016 Oscar-nominated film, “Hidden Figures,” inspired by a book called “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race” by Margot Lee Shetterly. 

“We are honored that NASA continues to celebrate the legacy of our mother and grandmother Mary W. Jackson,” Carolyn Lewis, Mary’s daughter, said in a statement. “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.”

While the headquarters sits on Hidden Figures Way in Washington, D.C., Bridenstine added that Jackson will be “hidden no more.” 

“We will continue to recognize the contributions of women, African Americans, and people of all backgrounds who have made NASA’s successful history of exploration possible,” Bridenstine said.