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Friday, May 10, 2019

Meet Annie Easley, the barrier-breaking mathematician who helped us explore the solar system | Massive Science

Dan Samorodnitsky, Science Editor at Massive Science summarizes, She overcame life-long racial discrimination to complete a long and impactful career at NASA.

Photo: Matteo Farinella
There’s a famous photo of Annie Easley. She’s standing next to a huge control panel with dials, lights, buttons from floor to ceiling. She looks like a character in a movie, commanding a fearless space mission. But it’s real: it was taken in 1981 in the Central Control Room of NASA’s Lewis Engine Research Building in Cleveland, Ohio, as part of a profile on Easley for a feature story in Science and Engineering Newsletter. Although Easley never had a movie made of her life, she was a hidden figure in her own right as a barrier-breaking mathematician and rocket scientist who worked on countless NASA projects for over 30 years.

Annie Jean Easley was born in 1933 and raised by her single mother in Birmingham, Alabama. She lived there until she left for college at Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana. Easley started off studying pharmacy. “I just thought it would be fascinating,” she said in a NASA oral history interview. “Now, it may have something to do with going to the corner drugstore, where they had all of the candy and the ice cream.”
Easley left school and briefly returned home to Birmingham in 1945. When she first registered to vote in Alabama, she was subjected to a Jim Crow-era poll tax and a test on Alabama’s history. She used her college background to help others overcome the onerous voting restrictions...

Her most famous work was on the Centaur rocket. The Centaur was a first-of-its-kind rocket, using a unique fuel system, and its legacy endures to this day. When Surveyor 1, the first American space probe to land on an extraterrestrial body, landed on the moon, it was powered by a Centaur rocket. A Centaur launched the Cassini probe to Saturn. When NASA’s InSight spacecraft lands on Mars, it will have gotten there using an Atlas V-401 rocket, a modern iteration of the Centaur. 

Source: Massive Science