19. Mary Ross
It’s hard to overstate how much of a boundary breaker Mary Ross proved to be throughout her life. She was born a member of the Cherokee Nation in Park Hill, Oklahoma, and by 16 had enrolled in Northeastern State Teachers' College, where she earned her Bachelor’s in Mathematics in 1928. That alone would have been notable for a woman at the time—but Ross was far from done. She went on to work as a teacher and as a statistical clerk, eventually getting her Master’s in mathematics on the side in 1938.
Soon, Lockheed hired her to work as a mathematician and eventually made her the only woman to be part of the top-secret Skunk Works team dedicated to designing fighter jets for the military. As part of Skunk Works, Ross also consulted NASA on a number of projects and co-authored the NASA Planetary Flight Handbook Vol. III, detailing the logistics of space travel to Mars and Venus.