From a young age, Annie Easley’s mother had told her that she could be anything she wanted, but she would have to work for it. Determined to get the best education she could in a time of segregation and discrimination she applied herself to her studies, graduating valedictorian of her high school class.
Attending Xavier University in New Orleans, she planned on obtaining her degree in pharmacology but her plans changed when she married and moved to Cleveland and couldn’t find a university program to continue her studies.
She then read an article in the local newspaper about twin sisters who worked as human computers at the Aircraft Engine Research Lab, part of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics. The article also stated that the lab was looking for anyone with strong skills in mathematics so Easley applied for a job was hired within two weeks and became one of only four African-Americans working at the lab.
When she joined NACA as a computer she was tasked with analyzing problems and doing complicated calculations by hand with one of her earliest projects being to run simulations for the newly planned Plum Brook Reactor Facility. As with any job in the sciences changes came around quickly at the lab, including NACA changing to NASA in 1958 and the replacement of human computers with machine computers and Easley changed right along becoming a computer programmer using computer languages like FORTRAN and SOAP to support a number of NASA’s programs.
Spending her 34-year career at NASA she supported the Centaur high-energy upper rocket stage, worked on solar, wind, and energy projects, and studies to determine the life use of storage batteries like those used for early hybrid vehicles. The computer code she developed and implemented analyzed alternative power technologies, identified energy conversion systems, and alternative systems to solve energy problems.
Always aware of the obstacles in her path as an African-American woman, she said she didn’t set out to be a pioneer she just wanted to get the job done and that if she couldn’t work with you she would work around you.
Written by Angela Goad
Wikipedia: Annie Easley