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Sally Ride was born in Los Angeles, California on May 26, 1951, and went on to lead an extraordinary life.

When NASA broadened its criteria for astronaut candidates - instead of just choosing test pilots - Ride applied. She was one of those chosen out of the thousands of applicants. Her academic qualifications were impressive. At Stanford University, she earned a BS degree in physics alongside a BA in English. She followed this up with an MSc and then a PhD in astrophysics. Although Ride became a scientist, she had also been an excellent tennis player with professional potential.

As an astronaut, she did two years of ground support before being assigned a space mission. On June 18, 1983, she became the first American woman in space. (Two female cosmonauts had preceded her.) Aged 32 on her first flight, she is still the youngest American astronaut to have gone into space. Ride went on to have a second space mission and would have had a third, but the shuttle program was thrown into disarray by the 1986 Challenger disaster. Her expertise was valued so highly that she served on the accident investigation boards for Challenger and later, having left NASA, for Columbia.

After NASA, Ride went into academia, and also co-founded Sally Ride Science to encourage the interest of young people – especially girls – in science and math.

Sadly, in 2012 Sally Ride died of pancreatic cancer.


Achievements may be honored with prizes and medals, but few get represented as children's toys. However Lego responded to a proposal to showcase women in space and astronomy by making a Lego set representing four such women and their major contributions. Who were these women? NASA Women in Lego


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Ruby Payne-Scott, the first woman radio astronomer, was born on 28 May 1912 in Grafton, New South Wales, Australia. [The photo is of her as a student in the 1930s.]

Payne-Scott started at Sydney University at 16 and became their third female physics graduate. She went on to work at the Cancer Research Institute from 1936 to 1938 before a brief transition into teaching - the result of a shortage of jobs for female physicists. Shortly after this, she joined AWA, a prominent electronics manufacturer and operator of two-way radio communications systems in Australia. Although originally hired as a librarian, her work quickly expanded to leading the measurements laboratory and performing electrical engineering research.

But having grown displeased with its research environment, she left AWA in August 1941 and joined the Radiophysics Laboratory of the Australian government's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). During World War II, she was engaged in top secret work investigating radar technology, becoming Australia's expert on the detection of aircraft using Plan Position Indicator (PPI) displays.

After the war, radio astronomy began to develop in Australia, as elsewhere. Payne-Scott carried out some of the key early solar radio astronomy observations at Dover Heights (Sydney). In the years 1945 to 1947, she discovered three of the five categories of solar bursts originating in the solar corona and made major contributions to the techniques of radio astronomy.

But there were obstacles for women. One of the petty problems she had to argue against was the expectation that women should wear skirts rather than shorts (such fun when you’re climbing up ladders and aerials). More serious were the issues of equal pay (reduced to 75% of the male rate in 1949 for anyone new to the organisation) and the requirement for women who got married to resign. In fact, Ruby married in 1944 but the CSIRO administration didn’t find this out until 1950.

She resigned abruptly from CSIRO in 1951 when she found out that she was pregnant for the second time – the first pregnancy had ended in miscarriage. She went back to teaching later in life and never resumed her research.


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Irish astronomer Mary Brück, née Conway, was born in Ballivor, County Meath on May 29, 1925.

A graduate of the University College Dublin in 1945 (BSc) and 1946 (MSc), and of the University of Edinburgh in 1950 (PhD), she went on to work at the Dunsink Observatory (pictured), where the German-born astronomer Hermann Alexander Brück had been appointed Director in 1947. She and Hermann Brück were married in 1951 and, following his appointment as Astronomer Royal for Scotland in 1957, the family relocated to Edinburgh. Mary was appointed a part-time lecturer at the University of Edinburgh in 1962, eventually rising to the post of senior lecturer and University Fellow, and eventually retiring in 1987. Although her astronomical research included investigations of stars, the interstellar medium and the Magellanic Clouds, Mary Teresa Brück is probably best remembered as a writer, with a particular interest in the history of science. Her published works include ‘The Peripatetic Astronomer: The Life of Charles Piazzi Smyth’ (in collaboration with her husband); ‘Agnes Mary Clerke and the Rise of Astrophysics’; ‘Women in Early British and Irish Astronomy: Stars and Satellites’; and the popular and influential ‘Ladybird Book of the Night Sky’ (1965). (Image of Mary Teresa Brück courtesy of Royal Observatory, Edinburgh).
[Society for the History of Astronomy]

In May 2001 the Astronomical Society of Edinburgh awarded Dr Brück their Lorimer Medal, given "in recognition of meritorious work in diffusing the knowledge of Astronomy among the general public". The photo shows Dr Mary Bruck (left) with Lorna McCalman (President) and Dr Dave Gavine (former recipient of medal).


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American research scientist Claudia Joan Alexander was born on May 30, 1959 in Vancouver, Canada, but grew up in Santa Clara, California. She earned her BA in geophysics at the University of California, Berkeley, her masters in geophysics & space physics from UCLA, and a PhD in atmospheric, oceanic & space sciences at the University of Michigan.

Alexander went to work at the United States Geological Survey, and then to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). She was the science coordinator for an instrument aboard the Galileo spacecraft and in the mission's final phase, was the project manager. As a planetary scientist she researched a number of topics, and also became the science coordinator on the Cassini mission to Saturn. In 2000 she became the project manager for NASA's contribution in the European Rosetta mission to Comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

As a scientist, she was also a science communicator and an advocate for women and minorities in STEM fields. She mentored young people, especially girls of color. And in addition to being a scientist, she was a published author, writing children's books and science fiction.

Claudia Alexander worked with the Rosetta mission until her untimely death from cancer in 2015. Her colleagues named a feature on Comet C-G after her. The Director of NASA's JPL wrote in tribute:
Quote
Claudia brought a rare combination of skills to her work as a space explorer. Of course with a doctorate in plasma physics, her technical credentials were solid. But she also had a special understanding of how scientific discovery affects us all, and how our greatest achievements are the result of teamwork, which came easily to her. Her insight into the scientific process will be sorely missed.


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Helen Patricia Sharman, English chemist, astronaut and science communicator, was born 30 May 1963 in Grenoside, Sheffield.

She earned her bachelor of science degree in chemistry at the University of Sheffield, then a PhD from Birkbeck, University of London. (Sharman has since been award a number of honorary doctorates, as well.) She went on to work in research and development at General Electric Company, and later as a chemist for the Mars Corporation.

Then Project Juno came along - it was to be a cooperative Soviet-British mission. But who in Britain would become the first British astronaut? Nearly 13,000 people applied, and eventually Sharman was chosen. She spent a year and a half in intensive training in Star City where Soviet cosmonauts were trained.

When she finally flew in May 1991, the mission lasted eight days. Sharman had been the first British astronaut, the first European woman in space, and the first woman to visit the Mir space station.

After a triumphant return to Earth, Sharman spent several years self-employed in presenting radio and television programs and other platforms for taking science to the public. Since then, she has worked at the National Physical Laboratory, and from 2015 at Imperial College London.


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French astronomer Gabrielle Renaudot Flammarion was born on May 31, 1877 in Meudon, a municipality in the suburbs of Paris.

She joined the Astronomical Society of France (Société Astronomique de France) in 1902 and was a faithful member for the rest of her life. A keen astronomical observer, in 1910 she began to contribute to the society's bulletin. Her research covered Jupiter's great red spot, variations on the Martian surface, and observations of other planets, minor planets and variable stars. She also wrote popular science articles for a number of different publications.

On a different note, when war came in 1914, Ms Renaudot enlisted in the army as a nurse and was decorated with a medal of honor for this work. After her contribution to the war effort, she was an assistant at the private observatory in Juvisy-sur-Orge, founded by Camille Flammarion.

After the death of Flammarion's wife Sylvie Pétiaux-Hugo, he married Gabrielle. He was much older than she was, so sadly, the marriage only lasted about six years. A lovely photo of Camille and Gabrielle

Gabrielle Flammarion had become the editor-in-chief of the astronomical society's magazine and after Camille's death, she also took on the role of secretary general. The astronomical society awarded her Le prix des Dames, one of their three major prizes. It was created in 1896 at the initiative of Sylvie Pétiaux. Despite its name, it's not specifically for women, but rather for eminent services to the society "either by scientific work or by an effective contribution to its progress".

It was after a long illness that she died on October 28, 1962, and was buried in the grounds of the Juvisy observatory, alongside Camille Flammarion and Sylvie Pétiaux.

Gone, but not forgotten, in 1973, the International Astronomical Union named an impact crater on Mars, Renaudot, in her honor - it's (355) Gabriella.


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Love the google. She was part of that generation that was "I can do this".

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[Margherita Hack, Knight Grand Cross OMRI, astrophysicist and science popularizer, was born in Florence, Italy on June 12, 1922. (OMRI is the order of merit of the Italian republic.) The person who would become known by many as “The Lady of the Stars” was not ever a person to be told there were things that women couldn't do.

She completed a degree in physics at the University of Florence in 1945, having done part of her studies at Arcetri Observatory, then under the directorship of internationally renowned solar astronomer Giorgio Abetti. Eventually she went on to become professor of astronomy at the University of Trieste (1964-1992) and administrator of the Trieste Astronomical Observatory (1964-1987). She was the first woman in Italy to hold such positions. She also worked at many American and European observatories and was for long time member of working groups of ESA and NASA.

Hack was a great and enthusiastic science communicator, and among the books she wrote were some of popular science. She also founded the bimonthly magazine L'Astronomia and later with a colleague, directed the magazine of popular science and astronomy culture Le Stelle (The Stars). Asteroid 8558 Hack was named in her honor.

In addition to her commitment to astronomy, Hack was politically active and ready to express her opinions on corrupt politics, pseudoscience and oppressive religion.

This larger than life woman died in 2013. In June 2021 she was remembered in a Google doodle. (But you're unlikely to have seen it unless you live in Italy, India or Iceland.)


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Henrietta Swan Leavitt was born on July 4, 1868 in Lancaster, Massachusetts.

Henrietta Leavitt isn't a well known name, but a century ago she made one of the most important discoveries of 20th century astronomy. Previously, astronomers could only measure distances up to 100 light years, but her work extended that to 10 million light years.

She discovered the relationship that makes it possible to use Cepheid variable stars to calculate cosmic distances. It was traditionally known as the period-luminosity relation. This name completely bypassed its discoverer. It wasn't until 2009 that the American Astronomical Society agreed to encourage people to refer to it as the “Leavitt Law”. This usage has since become more common.

Although she made a revolutionary discovery, her life left almost no footprints on history. The book Miss Leavitt's Stars contrasts the solidity of her professional accomplishment with the butterfly touch of her life. Miss Leavitt isn't even the star of her own biography.


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Professor Alyssa Goodman – born in New York on July 1, 1962 – is one of the leading lights of 21st century astronomy. She earned her B.S. in physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Then she went on to complete a PhD at Harvard where she is now a professor, the second woman full professor ever in the astronomy department. Goodman is also a co-Director for Science at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and a Research Associate of the Smithsonian Institution

In 1998 she was awarded the Newton Lacy Pierce Prize in Astronomy which is awarded annually by the American Astronomical Society to a young (less than age 36) astronomer for outstanding achievement in observational astronomical research. The prize is named after Newton Lacy Pierce, an American astronomer.

In 2015 she was selected as Scientist of the Year by the Harvard Foundation. The Harvard Gazette wrote:
Quote
Goodman’s research and teaching interests span astronomy, data visualization, and online systems for research and education.  In her astronomical pursuits, Goodman and her research group at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, study the dense gas between the stars.

Goodman co-founded the Initiative in Innovative Computing (IIC) at Harvard, and served as its director (2005-2008). The initiative created a University-wide interdisciplinary center. More recently, Goodman organized a diverse group of researchers, librarians, and software developers into an ongoing effort known as “Seamless Astronomy,” aimed at developing, refining, and sharing tools that accelerate the pace of scientific research, especially in astronomy.

In 2020 Goodman was elected a Legacy Fellow of the American Astronomical Society. 


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