Christine Darden was born Christine Mann on September 10, 1942, in Monroe, North Carolina. Her mother, Desma Cheney, was a schoolteacher and her father, Noah Horace Mann, Sr. was an insurance agent. Young Christine often accompanied her mother when she taught her classes. As a result, she began kindergarten at the age of four.
While in elementary school, Mann became interested in breaking apart and rebuilding mechanical things, like her bike, for example. She graduated from Allen High School, a boarding school, as the class valedictorian in 1958. She was then granted a scholarship to the HBCU, Hampton Institute, now known as Hampton University. In 1962, she graduated with a B.S. in Mathematics.
While in school, Mann also earned her teaching credentials. She taught high school math for a short period. She married Walter L. Darden, Jr., a middle-school teacher, in 1963. In 1965, she became a research assistant at Virginia State College. There, she earned her M.S. By 1967, she had begun teaching at Virginia State College.
In 1967, Darden was placed in a pool of qualified candidates who were considered ‘human computers.’ The ‘human computers’ were people who NASA deemed qualified to analyze data. Darden did not want to analyze data, however, she wanted to create it.
Darden spent eight years working through daily calculations for NASA before complaining. She asked her supervisor why only men–who had the same educational background as she did–were being promoted to engineers. Her supervisor then transferred her to the engineering section. She became one of the few female aerospace engineers at NASA at that time.
Sonic Boom Group
Darden’s first assignment as an engineer was to write a program for sonic boom. Her job was to write a program that would minimize the occurrence of sonic boom. This launched a 25-year career for her.
Darden decided to continue her education. She attended George Washington University. In 1983, she earned her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. In 1989, she became the technical leader of NASA’s Sonic Boom Group of the Vehicle Integration Branch of the High-Speed Research Program. She was now responsible for the development of the sonic boom research program.
Darden worked for NASA for over 40 years. She has led many teams and managed the TU-144 Experiments Program. She has also written over 50 publications on supersonic flow, flap design, and sonic boom minimization. At the age of 76, Christine Darden enjoys her life as a mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother.
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