Today’s Google Doodle celebrates Mary Golda Ross, the first known female Native American engineer. Born today in 1917, she was the great-great-granddaughter of John Ross, the longest-serving chief of the Cherokee Nation. She went on to be the only woman (aside from the secretary) on a top-secret 40-person team that helped send people to space.
Ross worked as a teacher at a Native American boarding school before pursuing a masters degree in math at the Colorado State College of Education. During World War II, Ross joined Lockheed Aircraft Corporation to engineer fighter plans. Afterward, she earned a certification in aeronautical engineering from UCLA.
Next, Lockheed asked her to be one of 40 engineers on its elite, secret “Skunk Works” project. The Skunk Works team helped NASA with aerospace engineering, including projects like the Agena rocket, which helped the Moon landing take place. Although much of Ross’ work is still classified, we do know that she also did research for flyby missions to Mars and Venus and the Poseidon missile. ”Often at night there were four of us working until 11 p.m.,” she remembered. “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.”
In 2004, Ross walked in the procession of Native American people who helped open the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian. When she died in 2008, Ross left a bequest of more than $400,000 to the museum.