Annie J. Easley was an female African-American computer scientist, mathematician, and rocket scientist. She helped develop power technology and software for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which we all know as “NASA”. She was born on April 23, 1933 in Birmingham, Alabama. Easley was the daughter of Samuel Bird Easley and Mary Melvina Hoover. Her and her only brother, who was six years old than her were raised by their single mother, who was a great encourager, and excelled in school.
From the fifth grade throughout high school, Annie Easley attended church related schools in Birmingham, and graduated as class valedictorian. When finished with high school, Easley thought that nursing and teaching were the only careers open to black women, even though her mother constantly told her that she could be whatever she wanted as long as she worked hard for it. Since she didn’t want to teach, Easley intended to become a nurse. However toward the end of high school she decided to become a pharmacist. She enrolled at Xavier University in New Orleans, Louisiana to study pharmacology for two years.
In 1954 she married a former serviceman and shortly moved back to Birmingham to figure what else to wanted to do with her life. Though she studied pharmacy for a couple of years after moving back home made her want to indulg herself in teaching as a substitute teacher. She taught blacks how to prepare for test especially those that dealt with literature. At that time that was extremely important because without those test blacks wouldn’t be able to register themselves to vote. A couple of years later she made plans to end her career as a substitute teacher and looked for work elsewhere.
In the year of 1955, Easley came across a newspaper article about twin sisters working as “human computers” at a Laboratory known as The National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics or in shorter terms “NACA” which was NASA’s predecessor at the Lewis Research Center located in Cleveland. She yearned for something new in her life, something that would keep her interest and make her challenge herself. At this exact moment she decided to accept an interview there and began taking the steps in order for her to accomplish her new set out goal.
She started teaching herself how to perform hard calculations by hand or on large desktop calculators, and looking up functions in printed tables. The work sounded so interesting that the following day Easley applied for a job there, and soon enough was hired! This new position for her was nerve racking. Can you imagine? Stepping into a field so advanced, where you were looked down upon just because you were a female or when you walked into a room your skin color spoke for you without you saying a word. Annie and many of a close collages had a lot on their plate but each were determined to overcome the odds.
When the laboratory received its first electronic computers, she and her colleagues were trained to operate on them with punch cards and eventually were given the title of “black female math technicians”. As the machines advanced, so did they. With every new technology that came about, they were already ten steps ahead. After a couple of months working there Annie came across something that was strange to her. She realized that they didn’t have a dress code. Though during that time women only wore pants. Her and her collages knew that certain things were acceptable and some weren’t.
Women were meant to dress polite and neat while men had the freedom to come and go as they pleased. That bothered both Annie and other female workers. Standing on your feet all day, or walking miles with heels and a dress on was tiring, so they next day Easley decided to come to work in a pants-suit with flats to fit for her comfort. Surprisingly she got away with it and the men didn’t care at all. Through it all though, each of them handled their business as black professional women. When jobs were assigned, or they were assigned to work on different computers they did it with no hesitation.
They each knew that they were a team. In a way that’s what made the whole experience special and that alone was the greatness about the people there. There were times when there was a deadline that had to be met, and they would efficiently meet it. To have that type of team behind you made you see the real teamwork in action, because people would just jump in and do it. There were some that could come and just give you the work that needed to be done. Other times, you were helping your co-worker, your office mate, or you were helping the person next door.
This was truly a teamwork effort and that was a part of the whole goal. They were black women helping each other and striving for the bigger picture that was greater that each of them combined. There was something special about working there, and the great people they had the opportunity to work with, to get the jobs done. Now, you didn’t just do something and say, “I’m done. ” You kept working. Soon Easley would give instructions to hired keypunchers and machine operators. Years went by, and she worked not only on technologies that led to hybrid vehicles, but also on software that enabled spaceflight and exploration.
If that wasn’t notable enough, Easley also did all of this as one of the first few African-Americans in her field. She became one of the first black computer programmers, working on alternative-energy technologies, energy-conservation systems, and the Centaur launch system. Without Easley the world will not know about the Rocket Launch Program. Neither would the world be familiar with “Human Calculators”. Easley paved the way for young black females, she has become an inspiration for those after her.
She showed the world that woman especially black women can do anything that set their mind too. All we have to do is remain focused and determined to accomplish each goal we set our minds on. Annie Easley retired in the year of 1989, and died on June 25, 2011 at age 78. Her 34-year career included developing and implementing computer codes that analyzed power technologies, supported the Centaur high-energy upper rocket stage, determined solar, wind and energy projects, identified energy conversion systems and alternative systems to solve energy problems.
Not only did her brilliant mind stop at just creating a new system for NASA but her energy assignments included studies to determine the life batteries, such as electric vehicles. Her computer applications have been used to identify energy conversion systems that offer the improvement over available technologies in our time. A quote once said by Annie Easley states that “You’re never too old, and if you want to, as my mother said, you can do anything you want to, but you have to work at it”.