North Carolina native Dr. Christine Mann Darden is an internationally recognized expert in high-speed aerodynamics and sonic-boom research. Over her nearly 40-year career with NASA, she won dozens of honors, including two NASA medals: one for her work and leadership of the sonic boom program and one for her active involvement in encouraging students to pursue careers in math and science. She received the Black Engineer of the Year Outstanding Achievement in Government Award, and the Women in Science and Engineering Lifetime Achievement Award.
Darden is mentioned in the 2016 book “Hidden Figures” as a person who stood on the shoulders of African American women who contributed to the space program in the early 1960s as members of NASA’s segregated West Computers unit. A native of Monroe, North Carolina, Darden graduated from Allen High School, a boarding school in Asheville. She attended Hampton Institute (now University) on scholarship, earning an undergraduate degree in mathematics education. She made a career switch from high school math teacher to engineer after earning a master’s degree in applied mathematics from Virginia State and a doctorate in mechanical engineering from George Washington University.
Darden was hired in 1967 as a computer/data analyst in the re-entry physics branch of NASA’s Langley Research Center. She was later promoted into an engineering position, spending 30 years spearheading research on ways to minimize sonic booms, a barrier to supersonic air travel, which could significantly reduce flight times. Just this year, NASA signed a contract with Lockheed Martin Palmdale to build a full-size supersonic low-boom X-plane to demonstrate low-boom performance and supersonic efficiency – a continuation of work Darden led and performed. She authored 57 technical articles, focusing on sonic-boom prediction and minimization, and supersonic wing design.
Darden became the first African American woman at NASA’s Langley Research Center to be promoted into the Senior Executive Service, the top rank of the federal civil service. She held a number of high-profile leadership roles with NASA, serving as a senior program manager in the High Speed Research Program Office, director of the Aero Performing Center Program Management Office, and as Langley’s assistant director for planning. She retired from her final position as director of Langley’s Office of Strategic Communication and Education in 2007.
Darden and her husband of 55 years, Walter, are the parents of three adult daughters, five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.