In 1958, the panel and host of the game show “What’s My Line?” didn’t know what to make of Mary Golda Ross. Through a series of yes or no questions, the panelists—which included the actor Jack Lemmon—deduced that Ross had something to do with rockets. But they thought she might help assemble them or perhaps support the facility in which they were made. They were floored to learn she designed them for the Lockheed Aircraft Corporation—and, no, she couldn’t share more information about her work as it was classified.
In their defense, Ross, a Native American and female aerospace engineer, was a true trailblazer. As recently as 2018, when Ross was honored with a Google Doodle on what would have been her 110th birthday, the Society of Women Engineers pointed out that only 11 percent of employed aerospace engineers were female, and only 0.1 percent of those working in science and engineering were female American Indians.
Mary Golda Ross pursues her engineering career
Ross was the great-great-granddaughter of Chief John Ross of the Cherokee Nation. She graduated from Northeastern State Teachers’ College in Oklahoma in 1928 with a degree in mathematics, then taught math and science in rural areas for nine years. In 1938, she earned a master’s degree from the Colorado State Teachers College, where she became fascinated by astronomy.
Mary Golda Ross, a female Native American aerospace engineer, became recognized for her work in designing satellites and concepts for flyby missions to other planets and co-authoring the #NASA Planetary Flight Handbook. #PioneersInTech
Upon her father’s advice, she moved to California after the start of World War II and was hired by Lockheed. There, using a slide rule and a Frieden computer, she earned a professional certification in aeronautical engineering from UCLA and eventually became one of 40 members of a top-secret team called Skunk Works. She designed satellites and concepts for flyby missions to other planets, as well as co-authored the NASA Planetary Flight Handbook Volume III —and that’s just the work we know about.
Ross retired in 1973 as a senior advanced systems staff engineer. She passed away in April 2008 at age 99.
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