Dr. Christine Mann Darden, a retired NASA director and aerospace engineer and a GW alumna, is an internationally recognized authority in the field of sonic-boom minimization. She began her career as a high school mathematics teacher but quickly moved to a data analyst position at NASA’s Langley Research Center when the opportunity presented itself. And with that, she embarked on a very successful 40-year career with the space agency.
Known as one of NASA’s “human computers” in the 60s and 70s, Dr. Darden’s story features in the 2016 bestseller, Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race. Dr. Darden continued her work as a data analyst for 6 years, and in 1973, she requested a transfer to the engineering department so she could work on applied mathematics problems, rather than the data work she had been doing. She persisted; her request was granted; and she was promoted to aerospace engineer.
She began her work in sonic boom minimization, and in 1989 was named technical leader of the Sonic Boom Group in the High Speed Research Program’s Vehicle Integration Branch. This is the program responsible for developing NASA’s sonic boom research program.
In 1999, Dr. Darden became a member of the Senior Executive Service at NASA when she was named director of the Aerospace Performing Center Program Management Office. She subsequently served as NASA Langley’s assistant director for strategic planning and, finally, as the director of strategic communications and education before retiring in 2007.
Among the awards she earned throughout her career are: NASA’s Certificate of Outstanding Performance (which she received ten times); the 1988 Black Engineer of the Year Award from U.S. Black Engineer & Technology magazine; and the 1987 Candace Award for Science and Technology. She also was honored in 2002 in a museum exhibition at the San Francisco Airport that showcased seven inventors whose innovations have contributed significantly to the NASA space program.
Dr. Darden earned her doctor of science degree in mechanical engineering from GW in 1983.