Remembering Virginia Norwood, the ‘mom’ of NASA’s Landsat program

Remembering Virginia Norwood, the ‘mom’ of NASA’s Landsat program
Remembering Virginia Norwood, the ‘mom’ of NASA’s Landsat program

In case you haven’t heard of Virginia Norwood, it’s about time you probably did. An aerospace pioneer whose profession would have been historic even with out its undercurrent of overcome misogynistic discrimination, she invented the Landsat satellite tv for pc program that screens the Earth’s floor right now. Norwood handed away on March twenty seventh on the age of 96, as reported by NASA and The New York Times.

She achieved all this regardless of vital pushback from the male-dominated business earlier than and after her rise. Regardless of her apparent expertise, quite a few employers declined to rent her after graduating from the Massachusetts Institute of Expertise. For instance, Sikorsky Plane advised her they might by no means pay her requested wage, equal to the bottom rank within the civil service. One other meals lab she utilized for requested her to vow to not get pregnant as a situation of her employment. (She withdrew her software.) Lastly, the gun producer Remington appreciated her “good” concepts in an interview however advised her they have been hiring a person as a substitute.

Her profession lastly progressed after touchdown jobs with the US Military Sign Corps Laboratories (the place she designed a radar reflector for climate balloons) and Sylvania Digital Protection Labs (the place she arrange the corporate’s first antenna lab). Norwood started working within the Fifties as one among a small group of girls at Hughes Plane Firm, the place she gained a popularity as a resourceful problem-solver. “She mentioned, ‘I used to be type of often known as the one who might clear up inconceivable issues,’” her daughter, Naomi Norwood, advised NASA. “So folks would deliver issues to her, even items of different tasks.”

1963 black & white image of Virginia Norwood, sittind down with a sly smile on her face.

Hughes Plane / NASA

Within the late Nineteen Sixties, the director of the Geological Survey wished to take pictures of the Earth from house to assist handle land assets; partnering with NASA, a plan was hatched to ship satellites into house. Then engaged on a complicated design workforce in Hughes’ house and communications division, Norwood fashioned the concept would outline her legacy. She gathered suggestions from agriculture, meteorology and geology specialists to develop a scanner to document totally different gentle and vitality spectra. Though it used current know-how made for (lower-altitude) agricultural observations, she tailored the tech to satisfy the Geological Survey’s and NASA’s targets.

Nevertheless, she confronted quite a few obstacles in securing a spot for her Multispectral Scanner System (MSS) on the launch satellite tv for pc. It was already hauling an infinite three-camera system developed by RCA utilizing tv tube know-how, which the companies considered as the first imaging supply. To get the MSS onboard, Norwood was tasked with scaling again its dimension to not more than 100 lbs, a big downsizing; the RCA system took up many of the satellite tv for pc’s 4,000 lb. payload.

She decreased the gadget to recording solely 4 vitality bands (down from its unique seven) to make sure it will make the journey as a secondary measurement system. The satellite tv for pc launched on July twenty third, 1972, and the MSS captured its first photos — of Oklahoma’s Ouachita Mountains — two days later. The outcomes exceeded all expectations, forcing a fast reevaluation of the satellite tv for pc payload’s hierarchy. Norwood’s system carried out higher and was extra dependable than the clunky RCA mission, which triggered energy surges and needed to be shut down for good two weeks into the mission.

Landsat rapidly grew to become the de facto technique of surveying the Earth’s floor. Norwood continued to enhance the system, main the event of Landsat 2, 3, 4 and 5. Landsat 8 and 9, the present variations monitoring the consequences of local weather change right now, are nonetheless primarily based on her preliminary idea. Her different tasks included main the microwave group in Hughes Plane’s missile lab and designing the ground-control communications tools for NASA’s Surveyor lunar lander.

She reportedly had no challenge with the “the mom of Landsat” moniker her friends gave her. “Sure, I prefer it, and it’s apt,” she mentioned. “I created it, I birthed it, and I fought for it.”

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