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Amazing woman.

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Beatrice Hill was born on January 27, 1941 in England as a world war raged. Her family moved to New Zealand after the war and that's where she grew up, the middle child of three sisters. Beatrice was a superb linguist, talented musician, good athlete, and excellent writer. However what really interested her was astrophysics. That wasn't offered at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand, so as an undergraduate she studied mathematics, physics and chemistry, and then completed a master's degree.

She married Brian Tinsley, and they moved to Austin when he was offered a job at the University of Texas. However, she couldn't get a job, and being a faculty wife didn't suit her. Eventually, with great difficulty, she persuaded the University of Texas to accept her for a PhD. She had to teach herself the basics of astronomy before starting it, but got top grades in everything and completed the degree in record time.

Despite a growing reputation elsewhere, she continued to be ignored by the astronomy department in her own university. Finally, in 1975 she accepted Yale University's offer, leaving Texas to become Yale's first female astronomer professor.

Beatrice Tinsley was one of the great minds of 20th century astronomy. Her radical approach to galaxies and star populations was to consider them in an evolutionary sense. Her pioneering work, using data modelling, helped to lay the foundation for our understanding of galaxies. This in turn is essential to cosmology, because it relates to the origin and the future of the Universe. She was a leading expert in the field.

Sadly, her contribution to astrophysics was cut short by her death from cancer in 1981. Yet despite having entered the field late and her death at 41, her work output included around a hundred papers, most of them written solely by her. Her papers are still widely cited.


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Retired NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson was born on February 9, 1960 in Mount Ayr, Iowa.

She earned a Ph.D in biochemistry from Rice University in Texas. Before becoming an astronaut candidate, she had worked as a research biochemist. During her time with NASA, she spent more time in space than any other NASA astronaut. (Her record is still unbroken.) Among all astronauts - and cosmonauts! - she has the record for the number of spacewalks by a woman and is fifth overall for time spent on EVAs. Whitson was also the first woman commander of the International Space Station (ISS).

Not all of her work with NASA was in space. She spent a few years as Chief Astronaut. Whitson was not only the first woman to hold this position, but also the first appointee who was not a pilot.


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One of the most brilliant and prolific writers of the 19th/early 20th centuries was Agnes Mary Clerke. She was born in Skibbereen in County Cork, Ireland on February 10, 1842. She was the second child of three born to a talented mother and a father who was a keen amateur astronomer. The children were home-schooled, though when they moved to Dublin, Agnes's brother Aubrey studied astronomy and mathematics at Trinity College Dublin.

When the family spent several years in Florence, Agnes used the National Central Library to continue her self-education. She took notes from texts read in the original languages, ancient Greek, Latin, German, Italian and French. Upon her return to Britain, she was ready to start writing.

In all, Clerke published seven books, mostly related to astronomy. Her Popular History of Astronomy went to four editions and some reprints. Both professional astronomers and the public appreciated her work with its clarity, integrity and style. Clerke was also asked to write articles, both on astronomy and biography. She wrote regularly for the Edinburgh Review, Dictionary of National Biography, Encyclopaedia Britannica and occasionally for several other publications.

Clerke's final book was Problems in Astrophysics in which she used the depth of her understanding to describe open questions in astronomy, and consider how new observational technology might deal with them. The brilliance of the book moved the Royal Astronomical Society to elect her to honorary membership. (Women weren't allowed to be full members and no honorary memberships had been given to women for nearly seventy years.)

The lunar crater Clerke, located near the eastern shores of Mare Serenitatis is named in her honour.


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Svetlana Gerasimenko, born on February 23, 1945 in the Ukraine, is a Soviet Tajikistani astronomer. When she started her PhD in astronomy at Kiev State University, she was fascinated by comets. After completing the Phd, she was offered a job at the Astrophysics Institute of Tajikstan Academy of Sciences, where she remained.

In an interview with the BBC she said
Quote
I decided that I would never be a teacher, because I saw how hard it was to teach. What iron nerves are needed. I decided to enter the physics department, nuclear physics, [which] was then very popular. But she did not pass the medical examination, due to problems with blood pressure. The requirements for applicants were as if they were not recruiting nuclear physicists, but astronauts. I didn’t think long and entered the Faculty of Astronomy. I've always loved looking at the sky. And I have never regretted my choice for a minute.

Interestingly, her one great discovery actually occurred in the first year of her PhD. She was the co-discoverer of comet 67P, along with her professor, Klim Churyumov. This was in 1969 on an expedition to observe comets, including one known to be visible. But they weren't expecting to discover any new ones. It was only when they returned to the university that an unexpected comet was discovered on Gerasimenko's photographic plates. Cool, yet not a really big deal.

But 35 years later, their old discovery became a Very Big Deal indeed.

In 2003, ESA – the European Space Agency – had a spacecraft ready to meet comet 46P/Wirtanen in the outer Solar System, and accompany it as it came into the inner Solar System and rounded the Sun. Unfortunately, a rocket failure meant the launch had to be postponed. That meant they wouldn't be able to catch up with 46P/Wirtanen. So the Rosetta spacecraft would instead be hunting Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and travelling around the Sun with it.

Both Gerasimenko and her former colleague Churyumov were invited to the Rosetta launch in Kourou, French Guiana. The Ariane rocket which launched Rosetta can be seen in the background.


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Carolyn Porco, a major star of planetary science and public outreach, was born in New York City on March 6, 1953. She's currently a Senior Research Scientist at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Colorado. However, her career goes beyond academia.

Porco was a member of the Voyager 2 imaging team when the spacecraft encountered Uranus in 1986 and Neptune in 1989. A decade later she led the imaging science team for the Cassini mission to Saturn, and after that was on the New Horizons imaging team for Pluto and the Kuiper Belt. She serves on several important NASA advisory committees.

She's co-authored over 125 scientific papers. Besides doing the science, Porco also takes the science to the public, being very active in public outreach.

Among her many honors and distinctions, she was named by The Sunday Times (London) as one of 18 scientific leaders of the 21st century and put on Wired magazine's 2008 “Smart List: 15 People the Next President Should Listen To.”


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On March 6, 1937, Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova was born in Bolshoye Maslennikovo, a village on the Volga River about 350 km northeast of Moscow.

She spent three days orbiting Earth strapped into a space capsule so primitive that no one could land in it. So how did the cosmonaut get home? That's part of the story of the first woman in space, on a solo flight twenty years before NASA sent America's first female astronaut, Sally Ride, into orbit on a Space Shuttle.

Valentina Tereshkova - the First Spacewoman


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On March 16, 1750, Caroline Herschel was born in Hannover, now part of Germany. She was an intelligent young woman trapped in domestic servitude by her mother. But her brother William rescued her, brought her to England, and trained her as a singer. After he discovered the planet Uranus, the two of them ended up forming a great partnership whose work revolutionized the study of astronomy. Caroline was the first woman to be credited for the discovery of a comet and the first woman in Britain to be paid as an astronomer.


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The women of Harvard Observatory worked hard for their meager wages. And the director wanted data processed, not theoretical work. Yet some of them made significant discoveries. One of the least known, but considered by some professional astronomers to be the most able, was Antonia Maury.

Antonia Coetana de Paiva Pereira Maury was born in Cold Spring, New York on March 21, 1866 into a highly intellectual family. Her maternal grandfather was John William Draper, physician, scientist and pioneer of photography. Henry Draper – doctor, professor and astrophotographer – was her uncle. Antonia's father was a well known naturalist.

Aged nine, with her father's encouragement, Antonia read Virgil in the original Latin. So it was no surprise that she graduated from Vassar College – where Maria Mitchell was one of her professors – with honors in physics, astronomy and philosophy.

She went to work at Harvard College Observatory, but she and the Director William Pickering didn't see eye to eye. Maury devised a star classification system that he said was too complicated. However Danish astronomer Ejnar Hertzsprung found it the only system that he could use for his study of stars. His work - and independently that of American astronomer Henry Norris Russell - led to what's now called the Hertzsprung-Russell (H-R) diagram. It's the key to understanding stellar evolution.

Hertzsprung felt that denying Maury's classification was “nearly the same as if a zoologist, who had detected the deciding differences between a whale and a fish, would continue in classifying them together.”


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Born on April 9, 1921 in Hampton, Virginia, Mary Jackson was an American mathematician and aerospace engineer at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which in 1958 was succeeded by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. She worked at Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, for most of her career. She was NASA's first black female engineer.

For Mary Winston Jackson, a love of science and a commitment to improving the lives of the people around her were one and the same. In the 1970s, she helped the youngsters in the science club at Hampton’s King Street Community center build their own wind tunnel and use it to conduct experiments. “We have to do something like this to get them interested in science," she said in an article for the local newspaper. "Sometimes they are not aware of the number of black scientists, and don't even know of the career opportunities until it is too late."

Mary’s own path to an engineering career at the NASA Langley Research Center was far from direct. She graduated from Hampton Institute in 1942 with a dual degree in Math and Physical Sciences, and accepted a job as a math teacher at a black school in Calvert County, Maryland. Then she did several different jobs before landing at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory’s segregated West Area Computing section in 1951.

After two years in the computing pool, Mary received an offer to work for engineer Kazimierz Czarnecki in the Supersonic Pressure Tunnel, a 60,000 horsepower wind tunnel capable of blasting models with winds approaching twice the speed of sound. Czarnecki offered Mary hands-on experience conducting experiments in the facility, and eventually suggested that she enter a training program that would allow her to earn a promotion from mathematician to engineer. Trainees had to take graduate level math and physics in after-work courses managed by the University of Virginia. Because the classes were held at then-segregated Hampton High School, however, Mary needed special permission from the City of Hampton to join her white peers in the classroom. Never one to flinch in the face of a challenge, she completed the courses and earned the promotion.

For nearly two decades she enjoyed a productive engineering career, authoring or co-authoring a dozen or so research reports. As the years progressed, the promotions slowed, and she became frustrated at her inability to break into management-level grades. In 1979, seeing that the glass ceiling was the rule rather than the exception for the center’s female professionals, she made a final, dramatic career change, leaving engineering and taking a demotion to fill the open position of Langley’s Federal Women’s Program Manager. There, she worked hard to impact the hiring and promotion of the next generation of all of NASA’s female mathematicians, engineers and scientists.

(Biography by Margot Lee Shetterly)


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