To celebrate Black History Month, we are delighted to induct Annie Easley into our heroes of Computer Science.
Annie Jean Easley was an American computer scientist, mathematician, and rocket scientist. She worked on several different projects during her 34-year career at NASA and its predecessor agency, NACA, at the Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio. She started work in 1955 as a human computer (one of only four African Americans among 2500 employees). Later (after the introduction of electronic computers) she became a ‘mathematician and computer technician.’ In one project she wrote software to analyse the Centaur rocket stage, laying some of the technological groundwork for launches including the space shuttles and many satellites. The Cassini space probe to Saturn was launched with a Centaur upper stage. She researched damage to the ozone layer during the 1970s, and later worked on energy projects such as solar energy and co-generating power plants that obtain useful byproducts while generating electricity.
Easley faced challenges during her life and career, including segregated education (prior to the Civil Rights movement in America), and unexplained refusal of funds that would normally be provided for training and education while at NASA. In one humiliating incident she was cut out of promotional photos. However, she participated in outreach programmes to encourage female and ethnic minority school students to consider careers in science and technology.
In 2021, a crater on the moon was named after Easley by the International Astronomical Union. She has been inducted into the Glenn Research Hall of Fame.