Dr. Christine Mann Darden

In the “Hidden Figures” book, Shetterly cast Darden as standing on the shoulders of Vaughan, Jackson, and Johnson who arrived at Langley 24, 16 and 14 years perspectively ahead of Darden. It was the excellence of the work of these three ladies that precipitated the hiring of Darden in 1967, two years prior to the moon landing.

Darden was born Christine Mann on September 10, 1942, to Noah Horace and Desma Mann. She was the youngest of five children, a native of Monroe, NC and a graduate of Allen High School. She earned a BS Degree in Mathematics Education from Hampton Institute, a MS Degree in Applied Mathematics from Virginia State College, and a Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from George Washington University. Darden also holds a Certificate of Advanced Study in Management from Simmons College Graduate School of Management in Boston, MA.

Like Dorothy, Katherine, and Mary, Christine had been encouraged by her father to become a high school mathematics teacher while at Hampton Institute. However, upon graduation, she was hired as a Data Analyst at Langley and assigned to the Computer Office in Re-Entry Physics Branch, in 1967.

After five years, Christine realized that the engineers were sending her equation very much like those she studied while working on her Master’s Degree. She asked for a transfer to Engineering but was refused. Two months later she approached a high-level Director and asked, “Why are men and women with similar background assigned to such different positions when they get to Langley? The ladies support the men, they don’t give talks, they don’t write papers, and they don’t get promoted. The men, on the other hand, are given research problems to work. They give talks on their work. They write papers. And they get promoted.”

This courageous conversation not only kept Darden from being laid off from NASA, but also contributed to her promotion and transfer to the Engineering section working on “Minimizing the Sonic Boom” of a supersonic aircraft. Like Jackson, Darden decided to pursue an engineering degree. She enrolled in a NASA funded program sponsored by George Washington University for a Doctor of Science in Mechanical Engineering with an emphasis in Fluid Dynamics. She graduated in February 1983. Earning that degree led to a 27-year career during which Darden became NASA’s leading expert on Supersonic boom analysis and authored over 57 technical articles published as NASA Reports or as Journal Articles. She gave conference papers in Germany, France, England, Greece, and Japan. Darden completed her final eight years at NASA as a member of the Senior Executive Service, the first African-American appointed to the highest rank level at the NASA Langley Research Center.

At Darden’s retirement in April 2007, two African-American Female Engineers spoke of how they were inspired from Darden’s story of switching from mathematics to engineering and were given the inspiration and courage to do the same. One of those ladies continues to this day to work as a very productive Systems Engineer at Langley. Johnson, Jackson, and Darden volunteered in the Hampton Roads Chapter of the National Technical Association to help middle school students in mathematics. They also tutor high school students for their SAT Tests and sponsored college students in giving technical talks that related to work done during summer intern jobs.

Darden and her husband of 53 years, Walter, are the proud parents of three adult daughters, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren. Although retired and still living in Hampton, she frequently travels throughout the country as a motivational and inspirational speaker for the next generation of minorities and women. She also travels to speaking engagements in conjunction with her good friend and author of “Hidden Figures” Margot Lee Shetterly. 

In 1985 Darden received the Dr. A. T. Weathers Technical Achievement Award from the National Technical Association. She received a Candace Award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women in 1987. She won three Certificates of Outstanding Performance from Langley Research Center: in 1989, 1991, and 1992. On January 28, 2018, Darden received the Presidential Citizenship Award at Hampton University in recognition for her contribution and service.

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