To celebrate Black History Month and to educate ourselves on technologists who have led, and continue to lead the way for future generations, past and present. It’s an opportunity for us to learn about and honor the achievements of those who have come before us. It’s also a time to reflect on how far we’ve come as a society, and how much further we still have to go.
The following women have made significant contributions in a variety of fields, including aerospace engineering, computer science, information security and cryptography, mathematics, and physics.
Melba Roy Mouton (1929–1990)
Main achievements: Melba Roy Mouton worked at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, coding computer programs to calculate the trajectories and locations of various aircraft.
Dr. Gladys West (1930–Present)
Main achievements: Gladys Mae West is an American mathematician known for her contributions to the mathematical modeling of the shape of the Earth, and her work on the development of the satellite geodesy models that were eventually incorporated into the Global Positioning System (GPS).
Katherine Johnson (1918–2020)
Main achievements: Katherine Johnson’s knowledge of mathematics was instrumental in the return of the Apollo astronauts from the Moon to Earth.
Mary Jackson (1921–2005)
American mathematician and aerospace engineer
Main achievements: After 34 years at NASA, Jackson had earned the most senior engineering title available. She realized she could not earn further promotions without becoming a supervisor. She accepted a demotion to become a manager of both the Federal Women’s Program, in the NASA Office of Equal Opportunity Programs, and of the Affirmative Action Program. In this role, she worked to influence both the hiring and promotion of women in NASA’s science, engineering, and mathematics careers.
Constance Baker Motley (1921–2005)
American jurist and politician
Main achievements: Judge Constance Baker Motley broke racial and gender barriers as the first African American woman to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court, be elected to the New York State Senate, and be appointed a federal judge.
Annie Easley (1933–2011)
American Computer Scientist
Main achievements: She developed and implemented code used in researching energy-conversion systems, analyzing alternative power technology—including the battery technology that was used for early hybrid vehicles, as well as for the Centaur upper-stage rocket.
Evelyn Boyd Granville (1924–Present)
Main achievements: Evelyn Boyd Granville created computer software to analyze satellite orbits for NASA space programs. She was also the second African-American woman in U.S. history to earn a Ph. D. in mathematics, after Euphemia Lofton Haynes.