Space travel would not be where it is today without the pioneering work of Mary G. Ross, the first American Indian female engineer. That's why Google is honoring Ross, on what would have been her 110th birthday, with a homepage Doodle: Head to the search engine today and you'll see an illustration of a smiling Ross inside a star, surrounded by an image of space and a detailed rocket design.
Ross, the great-granddaughter of Cherokee Chief John Ross, was born in 1908. After graduating from college, she originally taught high school math and science before earning her master's degree in math.
She joined the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a statistical clerk, then made a pivotal move to Lockheed Aircraft (later renamed the Lockheed Missiles and Space Co) during World War II. According to Google's Doodle Blog, it was there that Ross was encouraged to pursue further education in aeronautical engineering. She earned her certification from UCLA and became one of the original members — and the only woman, aside from a secretary — of Lockheed's secretive Skunk Works team. Skunk Works created designs for the United States' first operational jet fighter, the P-80, also called the Shooting Star because of its speed.
Ross in particular worked on early designs for interplanetary space travel — she co-authored a NASA handbook on travel from Mars to Venus — and satellites.
In addition making major contributions to her field, Ross also helped encourage other women and American Indians to pursue careers in engineering. She was a fellow of the Society of Women Engineers, which today has a scholarship in her name.
Ross, who passed away in 2008, left a bequest of over $400,000 to Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Ross died in 1908. We regret the error.