Today’s Google Doodle celebrates the 110th birthday of Mary Golda Ross, a math prodigy who became both the first female and Native American engineer at Lockheed Aircraft Corporation, where she helped develop the rocket technology that launched America into space.
Ross was born in Park Hill, Oklahoma, on August 9, 1908, and died nearly 100 years later on April 29, 2008, in Los Altos, California. She was the great-granddaughter of John Ross, the longest-serving chief of the Cherokee Nation.
She said her heritage contributed to her academic success.
“I was brought up in the Cherokee tradition of equal education for boys and girls,” Ross said, according to the Cherokee Nation’s website.
After graduating from Northeastern State College in 1928 with a math degree, Ross became a high school teacher for several years.
Great-great granddaughter to Chief John Ross of the Cherokee Nation, Mary G. Ross was born in the small town of Park Hill in Oklahoma. Raised with the Cherokee value of learning, Ross pursued a path considered nontraditional for women.
After receiving a degree in math from Northeastern State College, Ross taught math and science until she returned to school to earn her master’s in math from Colorado State College of Education.
What were her contributions to aerospace?
In 1942, Lockheed Missiles and Space Company hired Ross as mathematician.
But after a manager recognized her talent, Ross was sent to UCLA to earn a classification in aeronautical engineering. Lockheed then rehired her as their first female engineer. Ross would go on to work on major projects such as the Agena rocket, which was a crucial step in the Apollo program to land on the moon. She also was a part of SkunkWorks, a top-secret 40-member think tank where she was the only women aside from the secretary. Ross’ work there involved developing initial design concepts for interplanetary space travel, including flyby missions to Venus and Mars.
“Often at night there were four of us working until 11 p.m.,” she once said according to Google.
“I was the pencil pusher, doing a lot of research. My state of the art tools were a slide rule and a Frieden computer. We were taking the theoretical and making it real.”
. But I could hold my own with them and sometimes did better.”
Mary G. Ross also said: “To function efficiently in today’s world, you need math.
The world is so technical, if you plan to work in it, a math background will let you go farther and faster.”
Doodle Celebrates Mary G. Ross.
In 1942, she joined Lockheed as a mathematician and worked on the P-38 Lightning fighter plane design until the end of World War II, when the company put her on a course at the University of California Los Angeles to get a professional certificate in engineering in 1948.
Then came the space race.
Mary G. Ross was asked by Lockheed to join its top-secret think tank “Skunk Works,” which assisted NASA in its aerospace engineering.
She was one of just 40 engineers given the honor and helped send the U.S. into space, culminating in the 1969 moon landing, a seminal moment in American history.
According to The Smithsonian Magazine, Mary G. Ross helped write NASA’s Planetary Flight Handbook, the agency’s space travel guide, and contributed to planning for flights to Mars. “Much of Ross’s work will never be known because it was—and still is—classified,” The Smithsonian article says.
After retiring from Lockheed in 1973, Mary G. Ross dedicated the rest of her life to advocacy for Native Americans, including making opportunities for the next generation of engineers from the community.
When she died, Mary G. Ross left a substantial donation to the The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.