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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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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 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.


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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.


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Northern Irish astronomer and mathematician Annie Scott Dill Maunder (née Russell) was born in Strabane, County Tyron on April 14, 1868.

Elected as a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1916, she was already a member of the British Astronomical Association (of which her husband was a founder member in 1890). She had been rejected as a fellow 24 years earlier because the RAS didn't accept women until 1916. (Shame!)

Annie took part in five expeditions with her husband Edward Walter Maunder to observe total solar eclipses, these being to Lapland (9 Aug 1896), India (22 Jan 1898, during which event she obtained the longest coronal extension photographed up to that time), Algiers (28 May 1900, which she observed and photographed from the roof of the Hotel de la Régence, Algiers), Mauritius (18 May 1901) and Labrador (30 Aug 1905).

As well as serving two periods as editor of the Journal of the British Astronomical Society (1894-1896 and 1917-1930), she wrote several books in collaboration with her husband Edward Walter Maunder, including ‘The Heavens and Their Story’ (1908). The 54 km diameter lunar crater Maunder, located on the northern shores of Mare Orientale and just beyond the western limb of the Moon, is named in her honour and in honour of Edward Walter Maunder.

Credit: Society for the History of Astronomy


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American Astrophysicist Dr Kim Weaver was born on 19 April 1964 in Morgantown, West Virginia.

Dr Weaver says:
Quote
I have always loved astronomy. As a child I was lucky enough to have parents and grandparents who encouraged this love of astronomy and gave me some pretty amazing books to read. My favorite was a book that had lots of visible images and artists' impressions of stars and galaxies. Although the images were grainy and fuzzy (it was the 1970's, after all, and optical telescopes were still somewhat inadequate for detailed pictures), I would spend hours staring at the photographs and wondering what these objects were really like.

In her 20s, she had already discovered a galaxy and been awarded a PhD for her study of "The Complex Broad-band X-ray Spectra of Seyfert Galaxies". Soon after that she received a Presidential Early Career award to continue her X-ray work on black holes. She has had various jobs, including that of Program Scientist at NASA Headquarters for the Spitzer Space Telescope, Associate Director for Science at NASA's Goddard Flight Center, and more recently, US Project Scientist for XMM-Newton, an X-ray space observatory launched by the European Space Agency.

Dr Weaver says:
Quote
I chose to work in the field of x-ray astronomy because of the thrill and excitement of the new ways of looking at our universe that are available to today's astronomers. X-rays were discovered a mere 110 years ago and it has only been 40 years since we developed the technology to send x-ray telescopes into space.

And she's not selfish about hoarding the excitement of X-Ray astronomy.
Quote
I have always wanted to understand more about how our universe works and I especially enjoy communicating this information to others. We cannot see x-rays with our eyes, but by using today's x-ray telescopes, astronomers are learning more than they ever dreamed about space, time and our universe.

Books like the ones she devoured as a child make her want to inspire new generations to look to the stars. She has appeared in television programs and films as “the public face of NASA at Goddard,” and has written a popular book The Violent Universe: Joyrides Through the X-Ray Cosmos.


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Samantha Cristoforetti, born in Milan, Italy on April 26, 1977, is a standout even among extraordinary people. She's a seasoned astronaut and was a captain in the Italian Air Force. In 2022 she is the commander of Expedition 68 to the International Space Station, and has gone into space for four additional missions.

Cristoforetti graduated in 2001 from the Technical University Munich, Germany, having earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering with specialisations in aerospace propulsion and lightweight structures. As part of her degree studies, she also spent time at Ecole Nationale Supérieure de l’Aéronautique et de l’Espace in Toulouse, France, working on an experimental project in aerodynamics. Her degree thesis was in solid rocket propellants which she wrote in a 10-month research stay at the Mendeleev University of Chemical Technologies in Moscow, Russia.

After graduation, Cristoforetti joined the Italian Air Force. She was admitted to the Air Force Academy as an officer candidate and served as class leader for four years. As part of the training, she completed a bachelor's degree in aeronautical sciences at the University of Naples Federico II, Italy. Following graduation, she attended the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program in the USA where she earned her fighter pilot wings. She logged over 500 hours, flying six types of military aircraft.

In 2017, together with fellow ESA astronaut Matthias Maurer, she took part in a sea survival exercise organised by the Astronaut Center of China in the Yellow Sea. This was the first joint training of Chinese and non-Chinese astronauts in China. In 2019 Samantha served as commander for NASA’s 23rd Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO23) mission on a 10-day stay in the world’s only undersea research station, Aquarius.

Although Cristoforetti has a passion for science and technology, she is also an avid reader with in interest in humanities. She, of course, speaks Italian, but also speaks English, German, French, Russian and Chines. Her husband is an astronaut trainer and they have two children.

[Source: European Space Agency]


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Katherine J. Mack, popularly known as Katie Mack, was born 1 May 1981. She is a theoretical cosmologist, writer and science communicator. Captivated by science as a child, she built solar-powered cars out of Lego, and was encouraged by her mother to watch Star Trek and Star Wars. Mack's grandfather worked on the Apollo 11 mission.

So, no surprise when she went to study at Cal Tech in southern California. She got a degree in physics and then went on to a PhD in astrophysics from Princeton University. Postdoctoral work followed as a research fellow at the Kavli Institute for Cosmology at the University of Cambridge in England. In 2012, Mack was a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) Fellow at the University of Melbourne in Australia. And she was involved with the construction of the dark matter detector SABRE.

She had held posts at the University of North Carolina, but In June 2022 she joins the Perimeter Institute in Canada as the inaugural Hawking Chair in Cosmology and Science Communication. The institute's director said, “Her unique talents will allow her to make important contributions in all facets of Perimeter – not only as a terrific researcher, but also as a gifted science communicator who builds bridges between scientists and the wider world.”

Mack’s research concerns the physics of the universe from beginning to end, including topics such as dark matter, black holes, fast radio bursts, and the formation of the first galaxies. But in addition, throughout her career, she has also placed an emphasis on sharing science with the broader public. As @AstroKatie, she has amassed a following of more than 400,000 on Twitter. Her popular writing has appeared in major publications including Scientific American, Slate, Sky & Telescope, and Cosmos. She's also interested in the intersection of art, poetry and science.

In 2020, she released her first book, The End of Everything (Astrophysically Speaking), which examines five ways the universe could end and the mind-blowing lessons each scenario reveals about the most important concepts in cosmology. It was named a New York Times Notable Book of 2020, among many other accolades, and continues a storied tradition of science communication of which Hawking himself is perhaps the most known example.

She popularly goes by the name Katie Mack. In an online discussion, a man unwisely suggested to her that she should learn some "actual SCIENCE". Her many fans were amused by her response: “I dunno, man, I already went and got a PhD in astrophysics. Seems like more than that would be overkill at this point”.

[Sources: Wikipedia, Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics]


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Cecilia Payne - known later as Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin - was born in Wendover, Buckinghamshire, England on May 10, 1900. She studied at Cambridge University where she became interested in astronomy and was encouraged and assisted by Arthur Eddington. Although she fulfilled the requirements for a degree, the university didn't award degrees to women then. However, she was able to get a scholarship to Harvard College Observatory in the USA. Her research included many years of working with variable stars and novae, her efforts adding greatly to our understanding of the nature of these objects. Her thesis, published in 1925 as 'Stellar Atmospheres' and since described as '. . . the best Ph.D. thesis in astronomy ever written', resulted in her becoming the first recipient of a Ph.D. from Harvard College Observatory.

Payne-Gaposchkin spent her entire academic career at Harvard, and in 1956 was promoted to the position of full professor by Donald Menzel, the Director of the Harvard College Observatory. This was followed by her appointment to the Chair of the Department of Astronomy, her students including many individuals who were destined to play important roles in astronomy, including Helen Sawyer Hogg, Joseph Ashbrook and Frank Drake. The minor planet 2039 Payne-Gaposchkin, discovered on 14 Feb 1974 by astronomers at the Agassiz Station of the Harvard College Observatory in Massachusetts, USA, is named in her honour.

[Society for the History of Astronomy]

More about Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin


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