|Mary Golda Ross, linocut handprinted on Japanese kozo paper, 11" x 14", 2018 by Ele Willoughby|
When WWII broke out her father suggested she find a technical job in California. Lockheed Martin hired her as mathematician in 1942, troubleshooting the P-38 Lighting fighter plane (as shown). She knew already that her interest was in interplanetary flight, but didn’t mention it in 1942 for fear that her credibility would be questioned. As it turned out, she was indeed farsighted. After the war Lockheed Martin sent her to UCLA to study engineering and celestial mechanics. She was one of the 40 engineers selected to start Skunk Works, their Advanced Development Program, an in-house top-secret think tank. She was the only woman and only Indigenous person and much of her work there remains classified! The engineers were working long hours, often to 11 pm at night, during the rush of the Space Race. Some of her work included feasibility studies of ballistic missile and other defense systems. More interesting to me is her work on the pressure from ocean surface waves would effect submarine-launched vehicles; the effect of pressure from ocean surface waves on the seafloor was central to my own doctoral research. She worked on preliminary design concepts for interplanetary travel, crewed and uncrewed space flights and the earliest plans for orbiting satellites. She worked on the Agena rocket, so important to the Apollo moon mission (shown in my portrait), the Polaris reentry vehicle and was an author of the NASA Flight Handbook Vol. III about flight to Mars and Venus.
After retiring in 1973, she devoted her time to recruiting and mentoring women and Indigenous people to engineering. At 96 she participated in the opening ceremony for the National Museum of the American Indian, wearing her first traditional Cherokee dress made by her niece, and she left the museum $400,000 upon her death.
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