If you guessed that the new name for the NASA headquarters building in Washington, D.C. was chosen to honor an African-American woman you would be correct. This is 2020 and even NASA is trying to prove how woke of an agency it is.
On Wednesday NASA Director Jim Bridenstine announced that its headquarters will be renamed in honor of Mary W. Jackson. In 1958, Ms. Jackson became the first African-American female engineer at NASA.
“Mary W. Jackson was part of a group of very important women who helped NASA succeed in getting American astronauts into space. 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,” said Bridenstine. “Today, we proudly announce the Mary W. Jackson NASA Headquarters building. It 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. 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.”
The Hidden Figures reference is a nod to the movie that was made from the book published in 2016, “Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race.” The portion of E Street SW in front of NASA Headquarters was renamed Hidden Figures Way in 2019 after Congress passed a bipartisan bill by Sens. Ted Cruz, Ed Markey, John Thune, and Bill Nelson.
The book and movie tell a great story, especially if you are a NASA fan. Ms. Jackson’s personal story is an inspiring one. As the NASA press release stated, “Jackson started her NASA career in the segregated West Area Computing Unit of the agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Jackson, a mathematician and aerospace engineer, went on to lead programs influencing the hiring and promotion of women in NASA’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics careers. In 2019, she was posthumously awarded the Congressional Gold Medal.” She was known as one of the human computers at the Langley facility due to her skills as a research mathematician.
It just seems so 2020, though, to just now have decided to rename the headquarters after a black woman, given the current protests and chaos going on amid the Black Lives Matter marches. NASA looks like it is jumping on the bandwagon to prove how woke it is, just like so many big corporations. Mary and her colleagues have been honored in recent years, including by President Trump in 2019.
In 2019, President Donald J. Trump signed the Hidden Figures Congressional Gold Medal Act that posthumously awarded the honor to Jackson, who passed away in 2005, and her “Hidden Figures” colleagues Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Christine Darden.
In 2017, then 99-year-old Katherine Johnson was there to personally dedicate a new state-of-the-art computer research facility the bears her name at Langley. Johnson, another original member of the West Area Computing Unit, also was honored as a trailblazer and given the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. In addition, Johnson was part of the group honored with the Congressional Gold Medal, and NASA’s Independent Verification and Validation facility in Fairmont, West Virginia, also bears Johnson’s name.
“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. Over the years NASA has worked to honor the work of these Hidden Figures in various ways, including naming facilities, renaming streets and celebrating their legacy,” added Bridenstine. “We know there are many other people of color and diverse backgrounds who have contributed to our success, which is why we’re continuing the conversations started about a year ago with the agency’s Unity Campaign. NASA is dedicated to advancing diversity, and we will continue to take steps to do so.”
All of this feel-good language reminds me of President Obama’s vision of NASA. Remember in 2010 when Obama decided that Muslim outreach was the most important mission of NASA? That was under a different administrator, Charles Bolden, an African-American who served throughout both of Obama’s terms in the White House.
In a far-reaching restatement of goals for the nation’s space agency, NASA administrator Charles Bolden says President Obama has ordered him to pursue three new objectives: to “re-inspire children” to study science and math, to “expand our international relationships,” and to “reach out to the Muslim world.” Of those three goals, Bolden said in a recent interview with al-Jazeera, the mission to reach out to Muslims is “perhaps foremost,” because it will help Islamic nations “feel good” about their scientific accomplishments.
It’s still all about the “feel good”, I guess. Don’t get me wrong, Ms. Jackson and her colleagues were pioneers and I have huge respect for their achievements. NASA credits her with being influential in the hiring and promotion of the next generation of women in STEM at the agency. I just question the timing of this announcement, as daily protests and marches descend on the streets of Washington, D.C. Why didn’t they rename the building when they renamed the portion of the street in front of the building last year? It just looks like NASA is jumping on the bandwagon to appease the BLM protesters.