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Annie Easley: An inspiring mathematician and rocket scientist

By Anjali Dubey

Born on April 23, 1933 in Birmingham, Alabama, Annie Easley was a computer scientist, mathematician and rocket scientist. Annie was raised by a single mother and had an elder brother. In a time before the Civil Rights Movement when segregation was prevalent and African American children were separated from white children, Annie’s mother told her that she could be anything. She inspired her to push boundaries, break barriers and work hard to gain an education. In 1950, Annie enrolled in classes at Xavier University and majored in pharmacy for about 2 years but dropped out to move to Cleveland after she got married. The university there had just ended their pharmacy program, so she was unable to pursue that major any further and had to look for an alternative career. During this career hunt, she came across an article in the Cleveland newspaper about “twin sisters” who were human computers at NACA and decided to apply.

Annie began her career at NASA before it was even NASA. When she started off as a human computer, it was known as the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics or NACA. She was one of the first African-Americans to work at NASA as a “computer”. As NACA switched over to electric computers, her title changed to mathematician and computer technician. She also continued her education while working for the agency and obtained a Bachelors in Science and Mathematics from Cleveland State University. During her 34 year career she spent her time developing and implementing computer code that analysed alternative power technologies. One of her major works included writing the software for Centaur rocket stage which paved the way for later rocket and satellite launches. She also analysed battery life, energy conversion and alternative power technologies like solar and wind.

Annie worked actively in encouraging and empowering female and minority students to pursue STEM careers and also tutored elementary and high school students in her free time. She retired in 1989 but remained an active participant in the Speaker’s Bureau and the Business and Professional Women’s association. Annie lived in a time where women and African-Americans faced extreme discrimation from society, but despite various obstacles in her path, she continued to be persistent and work hard towards pursuing an education and working for the biggest space agency in the world becoming a great inspiration for us all.

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