Annie Jean Easley
April 23, 1933
|Died||June 25, 2011 (aged 78)|
|Education||B.S. in Mathematics, 1977|
|Alma mater||Cleveland State University|
|Employer(s)||Lewis Research Center at National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics|
Annie Easley was an American computer scientist and accomplished mathemetician who made critical contributions to NASA’s rocket systems and energy technologies over her 34-year career. As a black female in America during the 1950s she faced heavy adversity throughout her career and was often underrepresented and disregarded. Despite these barriers Easley demonstrated perserverance and determination to make a name for herself in a line of work dominated by males. She demonstrated exceptional skills in mathematics, data analysis, and code development across projects focused on alternative energy sources, improved power systems, and launch capabilities enabling space communication and exploration.
Easley was born April 23rd, 1933 in Birmingham, Alabama to Samuel Bird Easley and Mary Malvina Hoover. She was raised by her mother and her brother who was six years older than her.
In her early years, she aspired to be a nurse, but switched to pharmaceuticals when she began high school. Before the civil rights movement, education for black communities was extremely limited. Segregation was prevalent everywhere in society and black children were not offered the same opportunities as white children. Inspired by her mother to follow her dreams, set goals and work hard at them, Easley dedicated herself to her studies. She graduated valedictorian of Holy Family Highschool and enrolled in Xavier University in New Orleans. Four years later she got married and moved to Cleveland where she would continue to puruse a career in pharmaceuticals which would prove improbable. The next year, she divorced and moved back to Birmingham to be near her family. Being recently divorced and out of work after recently moving back home, Annie was constanlty on the search for work. However, Jim Crow laws were still in place during this time and black people were required to take literacy tests and pay poll taxes. Easley would help many members of her community to pass these tests and receive ultimately find jobs.
In 1955, Easley would read a story in the local newspaper highlighting twin sisters working at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) as "human computers." She applied for a job which required strong mathematical skills and despite not having a college degree, her highschool record indicated a strong work ethic convinced her future employers. Two weeks after sending in her application she began her 34 year long career as a computer scientist and mathematician. Four years later, in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was formed from NACA and Easley was one of 4 black employees out of a total of over 2500.
Easley's earl work involved running simulations at NASA's Plum Brook Reactor Facility and studying the effects of rocket launches on earth's ozone layer. She taught herself assembly programming using languages like Formula Translating System (Fortran) and the Simple Object Access Protocol (SOAP) to help with these simluations. She would also work on developing code used in researching and analyzing alternative power technologies like batteries and fuel systems, which would be later used in hybrid vehicles and NASA's Centaur upper-stage rocket.
Throughout her lifetime Easley continued to show generosity to others, commendable work ethic and a determination to redefine the role of black communities in american society. Despite her humble claims of not aspiring to be hero and a leader, she retired in 1989 as true innovator and rolemodel.
Before the Civil Rights Movement, educational and career opportunities for African-American children were very limited. Segregation was prevalent, 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, but 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. At a young age Annie had interest in becoming a nurse, but around the age of 16 she decided to study pharmacy.
In 1955, Easley 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 out of about 2500 employees. She began her career as computer 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. Later after electronic computers started being used at NASA her title changed to mathematician and computer technician. Even with a degree, at NASA, Easley also had to complete internal specialization courses to be considered a professional. Easley was denied financial aid that other employees received for education, without explanation from the agency. She also noted that she did not feel that her pay was very high when she first started with two years of college. Although she was promised a GS-3 in her interview, her first paycheck was a GS-2, and when she questioned it she was told there were no more GS-3s available.
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. She was also part of a recruitment effort on behalf of NASA for engineering students from numerous colleges.
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, and identified energy conversion systems and alternative systems to solve energy problems. During the 1970s Easley worked on a project examining damage to the ozone layer. With massive cuts in the NASA space program, Easley began working on 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. Following the energy crisis of the late 1970s Easley studied the economic advantages of co-generating power plants that obtained byproducts from coal and steam. After retiring in 1989, she remained an active participant in the Speaker's Bureau and the Business & Professional Women's association. Despite her long career and numerous contributions to research, she was cut out of NASA's promotional photos. In response to one such event, Easley responded by saying "I'm out here to do a job and I knew I had the ability to do it, and that's where my focus was, on getting the job done. I was not intentionally trying to be a pioneer." which showed that she placed her work and solving problems before everything else.
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 lived in a time where women and African-Americans were facing discrimination from society, although she prided herself in her work ethic and achieved her goals nonetheless. She also experienced some discrimination related to being an African-American during her career, especially with the picture-cutting incident at her work, when her face was cut out from a picture to put it on display. In her 34-year career she worked in four different departments: the Computer Services Division, the Energy Directorate, the Launch Vehicles Group and the Engineering Directorate, although none of her moves were due to promotions, which she recognized may have been due to her race or sex.
Throughout the 1970s, Easley advocated for and encouraged female and minority students at college career days to work in STEM careers. She tutored elementary and high school children as well as young adults who had dropped out of school in a work-study program.
She had the intention of continuing her studies in Cleveland, but unfortunately, the local university had ended its pharmacy program a short time before and no nearby alternative existed.
After divorcing her husband, Easley 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.
Easley had always loved dressing up. She wore stockings and heels almost every day in college. Although there was no dress code in her work department, wearing pants as a woman during that time was still not normalized. However, she was one of the first to wear pants to work in the 1970s after talking to her supervisor about it.
In her first three years after retiring from NASA, Easley focused on volunteer work, often telling people she put more miles on her car as a retiree than as a worker. She traveled the world, mostly to ski, and become an independent contractor in real estate. Although she no longer tutored, she expressed that she was always willing to talk to students at career days and similar events if asked.
- Performance and Operational Economics Estimates for a Coal Gasification Combined-Cycle Cogeneration Powerplant. Nainiger, Joseph J.; Burns, Raymond K.; Easley, Annie J. NASA, Lewis Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio. NASA Tech Memo 82729 Mar 1982 31p
- Bleed Cycle Propellant Pumping in a Gas-Core Nuclear Rocket Engine System. Kascak, A. F.; Easley, A. J. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Lewis Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio. Report No.: NASA-TM-X-2517; E-6639 March 1972
- Effect of Turbulent Mixing on Average Fuel Temperatures in a Gas-Core Nuclear Rocket Engine. Easley, A. J.; Kascak, A. F.; National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Lewis Research Center, Cleveland, Ohio. Report No.: NASA-TN-D-4882 Nov 1968
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