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Annie Easley
NASA Science and Engineering Newsletter Annie Easley.jpg
Cover of Science and Engineering Newsletter featuring Easley at the Lewis Research Center
Born (1933-04-23)April 23, 1933
Died June 25, 2011(2011-06-25) (aged 78)
Nationality American
Education B.S. in Mathematics, 1977
Alma mater Cleveland State University
Occupation Computer Engineer
Employer Lewis Research Center at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics
Known for NACA and NASA work

Annie J. Easley (April 23, 1933 – June 25, 2011) was an American computer scientist, mathe , and rocket scientist. She worked for the Lewis Research Center (now Glenn Research Center) of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and its predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). She was a leading member of the team which developed software for the Centaur rocket stage, and was one of the first African-Americans to work as a computer scientist at NASA.

Early life and education

Annie Easley was born to Samuel Bird Easley and Mary Melvina Hoover in Birmingham, Alabama. Before the Civil Rights Movement, educational and career opportunities for African-American children were very limited. African-American children were educated separately from white children, and their schools were often inferior to white schools. Annie's mother told her that she could be anything she would have to work at it. She encouraged Annie to get a good education. From the fifth grade through high school, Annie attended Holy Family High School, and was valedictorian of her graduating class.

In 1950, Easley enrolled in classes at Xavier University in New Orleans, which was then an African-American Roman Catholic University, and majored in pharmacy for about two years.

In 1954, she returned to Birmingham. As part of the Jim Crow laws that maintained racial inequality, African Americans were required to pass a literacy test and pay a poll tax in order to vote, which was outlawed in 1964 in the Twenty-fourth Amendment. She remembered the test giver looking at her application and saying only, "You went to Xavier University. Two dollars." Subsequently, she helped other African-Americans prepare for the test.

Shortly thereafter, she moved to Cleveland to be closer to her husband's family, with the intention of continuing her studies. Unfortunately, the local university had ended its pharmacy program a short time before and no nearby alternative existed.

Throughout the 1970s, Easley advocated for and encouraged female and minority students at college career days to work in STEM careers.

Career at NACA and NASA

Annie Easley
Annie Easley, NASA

In 1955, she read a story in a local newspaper about twin sisters who worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) as "computers". She applied for a job the next day, and was hired two weeks later - one of four African Americans of about 2500 employees. She began her career as a mathematician and computer engineer at the NACA Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory (which became NASA Lewis Research Center, 1958–1999, and subsequently the John H. Glenn Research Center) in Cleveland, Ohio. She continued her education while working for the agency, and in 1977, obtained a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics from Cleveland State University. As part of a continuing education, Easley worked through specialization courses offered by NASA. Easley was denied financial aid that other employees received for education, without explanation from the agency.

Easley's outreach for minorities did not end with her volunteer work at college career days. At NASA she took upon herself to be an Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) counselor. This was one of the formal ways that she helped her supervisors at NASA address discrimination complaints from all levels.

Her 34-year career included developing and implementing computer code that analyzed alternative 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. Her energy assignments included studies to determine the life use of storage batteries, such as those used in electric utility vehicles. Her computer applications have been used to identify energy conversion systems that offer the improvement over commercially available technologies. She retired in 1989. Despite her long career and numerous contributions to research, she was cut out of NASA's promotional photos.

Easley's work with the Centaur project helped lay the technological foundations for future space shuttle launches and launches of communication, military and weather satellites. Her work contributed to the 1997 flight to Saturn of the Cassini probe, the launcher of which had the Centaur as its upper stage.

Annie Easley was interviewed in Cleveland on August 21, 2001 by Sandra Johnson. The interview is stored in the National Aeronautics and Space Administration Johnson Space Center Oral History Program. The 55 page interview transcript includes material on the history of the Civil Rights Movement, Glenn Research Center, Johnson Space Center, space flight, and the contribution of women to space flight. In that same Interview, Easley was asked whether she still played with gadgets and stated “I don't have the time or the desire. I will get the email and I'll send it, but I don't play with it. It's not like this fascinating thing I play with. I'd much rather be out doing something actively, like on the golf course or doing other things.

Easley was also a budding athlete who founded and subsequently became the first President of the NASA Ski Club and participated in other local ski clubs.

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