Annie Easley was a brilliant mathematician and computer scientist who made significant contributions to space exploration and computer programming. She was also a pioneer for African-American women in the fields of science and technology, overcoming challenges and discrimination with her talent and perseverance.
Easley was born on April 23, 1933, in Birmingham, Alabama, where she grew up in a segregated society. She excelled in mathematics from a young age and pursued a degree in pharmacy at Xavier University in New Orleans. However, she changed her career path after reading a newspaper article about twin sisters who worked as human computers at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the predecessor of NASA.
In 1955, Easley joined NACA as a human computer, performing complex calculations by hand for researchers. She was one of only four African-Americans out of about 2500 employees at the time. She faced many obstacles as an African-American woman in a predominantly white and male environment, but she did not let them discourage her. She said, "I just have my own attitude. I'm out here to get the job done, and I knew I had the ability to do it."
When NACA became NASA in 1958, Easley adapted to the new technology and became a skilled computer programmer. She used languages such as Fortran and SOAP to develop software for various NASA projects. One of her most notable achievements was her work on the Centaur rocket stage, which used liquid hydrogen and oxygen to boost rockets into space. The Centaur was used for many important missions, such as launching satellites and exploring planets.
Easley also conducted research on alternative energy sources and energy conversion systems. She worked on developing batteries for electric vehicles and improving energy efficiency. She earned a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics from Cleveland State University in 1977, while working full time at NASA.
Easley was not only a trailblazer in her field, but also an advocate for diversity and inclusion in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). She participated in outreach programs to encourage young students, especially from underrepresented groups, to pursue careers in science and technology. She also helped prospective voters prepare for the literacy test during the Jim Crow era.
Easley retired from NASA in 1989, after 34 years of service. She passed away on June 25, 2011, at the age of 78. She was posthumously inducted into the Glenn Research Hall of Fame in 2015 and honored with a lunar crater named after her by the International Astronomical Union in 2021.
Annie Easley's remarkable life and accomplishments serve as an inspiration for aspiring scientists and engineers, particularly women and people of color. She broke barriers and made invaluable contributions to space exploration and computer programming with her determination, talent, and perseverance. She showed us that nothing is impossible if we work hard and follow our dreams. As we celebrate her extraordinary legacy, let us remember Annie Easley as a role model and a symbol of the limitless potential that lies within each of us.
A Lifelong Love for Puzzles
Annie Easley had a passion for solving puzzles and complex problems from a young age. Her love for puzzles served as the foundation for her later interest in mathematics and computer programming.
In addition to her scientific pursuits, Easley was a talented musician and played the piano and organ. Her artistic talents were another expression of her creative and multifaceted personality.
Began as a Human "Computer"
When Easley joined the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), which later became NASA, she started as a "human computer," performing complex calculations by hand. Her exceptional mathematical skills quickly earned her recognition and opportunities to transition into computer programming.
Moon Landing Contributor
Worked on the Centaur Rocket Stage: One of Easley's most notable achievements was her work on the Centaur rocket stage, which used liquid hydrogen and oxygen to boost rockets into space. The Centaur was used for many important missions, such as launching satellites and exploring planets.
An Inspiration for the Future
Annie Easley's life and career serve as an enduring inspiration for young scientists, particularly women and people of color, to pursue their passions in STEM fields and strive for excellence in the face of challenges. Her legacy continues to inspire countless individuals to break barriers and make a positive impact in the world of science and technology.