Wednesday, November 5, 2014
Annie J. Easley was an African-American computer scientist, mathematician, and rocket scientist.
Annie J. Easley was an African-American computer scientist, mathematician, and rocket scientist. She worked for the Lewis Research Center of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). She was a leading member of the team which developed software for the Centaur rocket stage and one of the 1st African-Americans in her field. In the days before the Civil Rights Movement, educational and career opportunities for African American children were very limited. African American children were educated separately from white children and their schools were most often inferior to white schools. Annie was fortunate in that her mother told her that she could be anything she wanted but she would have to work at it. She encouraged her to get a good education and from the fifth grade through high school, she attended a parochial school and was valedictorian of her graduating class. After high school she went to New Orleans, Louisiana, to Xavier University, then an African-American Roman Catholic University, where she majored in pharmacy for about two years. As part of the Jim Crow laws that established and maintained racial inequality, African Americans were required to pass an onerous literacy test and pay a poll tax in order to vote. She remembers the test giver looking at her application and saying only, "You went to Xavier University. Two dollars." Subsequently, she helped other African Americans prepare for the test. In 1964, the 24th Amendment outlawed the poll tax in Federal elections. But it was not until 1965 that the Voting Rights Act eliminated the literacy test. In 1955, she read a local newspaper article about a story on twin sisters who worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) as "computers" and the next day she applied for a job. Within two weeks she was hired, one of four African Americans of about 2500 employees. Her 34-year career included developing and implementing computer code that analyzed alternative power technologies, supported Centaur, determined solar, wind and energy projects, identified energy conversion systems and alternative systems to solve energy problems. Easley's work with the Centaur project helped as technological foundations for the space shuttle launches and launches of communication, military and weather satellites. Her work contributed to the 1997 flight to Saturn of the Cassini probe, which was launched by the Centaur.