10 Mary Golda Ross: Contributions to Rocket Science

Amy Minervini

[The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level is: 9.2 (without quoted material)]

Mary Golda Ross was raised by her grandparents in Park Hill, Oklahoma, and attended Cherokee Nation schools. She credited her culture for her interest in math: ”Mary referred to the Cherokee values of education and preparation for the future as key in her life. She loved math, but also believed it would unlock the ability to solve problems” (Wallace). After earning a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, she taught math and science to Cherokee students. She used her summers to earn her master’s degree. She also took every astronomy class that she could because space exploration excited her.

A drawing of Mary Golda Ross surrounded by stars with a rocket in the sky.
Image of Mary Golda Ross  – Ad Astra per Astra by America Meredith – National Museum of the American Indian

In 1942, she was hired by Lockheed to support the WWII effort. She helped design the super fast, ultra light P-38 Lightning fighter plane (Wallace). She was the only female and only American Indian member of the Skunk Works team. This ‘human computer’ used her math skills on many satellite and missile projects. She even worked on the precursor to NASA’s Apollo project: “Mary worked on the Agena rocket orbital dynamics, calculating the transfer orbit as the rocket left the Earth’s atmosphere. Today’s engineer would use the computer program, MATLAB, and insert the parameter to determine when the rocket would reach its destination” (Viola). Much of Ross’s work as a space engineer is still top secret.

After retirement, Ross co-founded a chapter of Society of Women Engineers and volunteered her time encouraging young women and Indigenous youth to study engineering. She walked in the 2004 opening ceremony for the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, wearing a green calico Cherokee dress made by her niece. In her will, she generously left $400,000 to the musecalicoum (“Mary Golda Ross”). In 2019, Ross’s image and her prized math formula were used on the $1 coin honoring the Apollo 11 moon landing.

In a biography on Ross, Cherokee author Traci Sorell said, “Mary Golda Ross embodies what our Cherokee people and culture are known for – using your gifts and education in service to others . . . . She took her whole self into spaces occupied primarily by white men at the time [and] transformed them. She paved the way for so many women and Native people in STEM fields because of that” (Bark).


Writing Prompts

Narrative: Have you ever dreamed of going to space like Mary Golda Ross did, or how about to some faraway place? Imagine that you get the opportunity to travel to someplace new. Write a brief story describing what you see, hear, touch, smell, and even taste. Who or what might you meet? Besides sensory details about the setting, please include some dialogue when you retell your adventure story. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.W.6.3

Informative: Although we do get some information about the work Ross did, most of her data analysis and calculations are classified. Identify the three levels of classification and explain what each of them mean. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.2

Persuasive: Mary Golda Ross felt a strong duty to help others with her talents just as many other women did during WWII. Persuade your audience that the United States and its allies would have never won WWII without the help and support of women in various roles–aerospace/aviation, manufacturing, domestic life, and/or the arts. Use evidence-based reasoning and real-life examples as support. CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.WHST.6-8.1

Creation/Application: In 2018, Google celebrated the 110th birthday of Mary Golda Ross with a Google Doodle see here. Hand draw or digitally design your own Google Doodle for class on a topic that interests you or of someone who inspires you. Also, Doodle 4 Google has a an annual contest (deadline early March) that you might want to consider entering in the future!

Works Cited

Bark, Lindsey. “Mary Golda Ross: Mathematician, Engineer and Inspiration.” Cherokeephoenix.org, 24 May 2021, www.cherokeephoenix.org/education/mary-golda-ross-mathematician-engineer-and-inspiration/article_35dde35c-7b67-11eb-a57a-df1679a79491.html. Accessed 20 June 2022.

“Mary Golda Ross.” The Glinda Factor, theglindafactor.com/mary-golda-ross/. Accessed 20 June 2022.

Viola, Herman. “Mary Golda Ross: She Reached for the Stars.” NMAI Magazine, 2018, www.americanindianmagazine.org/story/mary-golda-ross-she-reached-stars. Accessed 20 June 2022.

Wallace, Rob. “Mary Golda Ross and the Skunk Works.” The National WWII Museum | New Orleans, 19 Nov. 2021, www.nationalww2museum.org/war/articles/mary-golda-ross-and-skunk-works. Accessed 20 June 2022.


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