Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - 36

M A RY G OL DA RO S S

M A R K I NG "F I R ST S"
I N A E RO SPAC E

ary Golda Ross could have
starred in her own motion
picture about rocket scientists of
color. Ross, Cherokee, is best known
for her work as one of the country's
original rocket scientists, but her role
was so well hidden that in 1958 she
easily stumped the celebrity panelists
on the popular TV game show
What's My Line?
Ross was born in 1908, just one
year after her native Oklahoma
became a state. She obtained a
bachelor's degree in 1928 from
Northeastern State Teachers College in
Tahlequah, which had been founded
by her great-great-grandfather Chief
John Ross. She taught math and
science for nine years in public
schools, then went on to earn a
master's in math from Colorado State
College of Education.
But in 1942 destiny - and a new
career - took Ross farther west, to
Lockheed Aircraft Corporation. She
initially did research for the P-38
fighter plane, after which Lockheed
sent her for advanced aeronautical
engineering training and made her the
company's first woman engineer.
Ross was part of a team of 40
engineers that founded the Lockheed
"Skunk Works," a secret think tank
that developed ballistic missiles,
satellites, and the first successfully
launched rocket, the Agena. She was
the only woman - and the only
Native - in the Skunk Works, which
is still in existence. "Often at night
there were four of us working until 11
p.m.," Ross recalled in a 1994 interview
with the San Jose Mercury News. "I was
the pencil pusher, doing a lot of
research. My state-of-the-art tools
were a slide rule and a Frieden
computer."
Because Lockheed was a major
NASA contractor, Ross's work
contributed to the U.S. space program.
Ross was one of the authors of NASA's
Planetary Flight Handbook Vol. 3,
which laid the groundwork for the
next four decades of space travel,
including the Apollo missions. After
becoming the firm's senior advanced
systems staff engineer, Ross contrib-

36 WINDS OF CHANGE * FALL 2017

uted to the development of the
Poseidon and Trident missiles.
"The best thing about being a
research engineer was that you were
discovering new things every day,"
Ross told writer Laurel M. Sheppard
during a 2002 interview for Native
Peoples magazine. "I was working on
designing vehicles that had never been
dreamed of before - I felt immense
satisfaction in this."
Ross also became involved in
AISES, and in 1984 was given a
lifetime membership. In 1985, she was
named winner of the Ely S. Parker
Award, the organization's highest
honor. Later that year, she received
the Eagle Feather award from the
Council of Energy Resource Tribes,
which then renamed the award for
her. She was also a member - and
later a fellow - of the Society of
Women Engineers.
In 2004, Ross marked another
milestone: wearing her first-ever
traditional Cherokee dress. She
asked her niece to make it so she
could participate in the processional
marking the opening of the

aises.org

MARY GOLDA ROSS: AD ASTRA PER ASTRA, AMERICA MEREDITH (CHEROKEE NATION)
2011, ACRYLIC ON CANVAS, 30 X 40 IN. COLLECTION OF THE SMITHSONIAN, NATIONAL MUSEUM
OF THE AMERICAN INDIAN. IMAGE COURTESY OF THE ARTIST.

M


http://SKC.edu http://www.aises.org

Winds of Change - Fall 2017

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Winds of Change - Fall 2017

Contents
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - Intro
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - Cover1
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - Cover2
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - Contents
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - 2
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - 3
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Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - Cover3
Winds of Change - Fall 2017 - Cover4
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