Famous Women Working in Space Science and Astronomy
written by: Jason C. Chavis•edited by: RC Davison•updated: 8/7/2011
Throughout the course of history, women in astronomy have had a profound effect on space science. Today, women hold some of the most prominent positions in the entire industry. Along with individuals, a number of organizations have been developed to focus on supporting female scientists.
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A number of women working in the field of astronomy and space science in general have made major headway in the industry. Despite traditional stereotypes and a low percentage of women graduating from colleges and universities with degrees in science, the success of many women in astronomy have changed the dynamics of science and influenced a generation of women and girls.
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Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy
One of the fundamental organizations to push for women in the astronomy and space science field is the Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy, part of the American Astronomical Society. Established in 1979, the group of eight members pushes to improve both the status and occurrence of women in astronomy and other space sciences. It also provides an outlet and resource for women looking for employment and jobs in the field.
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Born in 1944, one of the most prominent astronomers in the world is Jill Tarter. She obtained her degree from Cornell and moved onto the University of California at Berkeley to obtain her doctorate. Currently, she is director of the Center for SETI Research and holds the Bernard M. Oliver Chair at the SETI Institute.
Some of her greater accomplishments include leading NASA's High Resolution Microwave Survey and directing much of Project Phoenix, the analysis of radio signals to locate extraterrestrial life.In 2002, she was elected a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the the California Academy of Sciences the following year.
Despite popular belief, Tarter is not the basis for the main character of Carl Sagan's novel, Contact.
Above Right: Photo of Jill Tarter. (Supplied by Steve Jurvetson at Wikimedia Commons; Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 License; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Jill_Tarter_at_TED_in_2009.jpg)
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Another popular female space scientist is Carolyn Porco. As an American planetary scientist, she is most famous for her imaging work on the Voyager missions to the outer solar system in the 1980s and her work as the leader of the Cassini mission's imaging science team on its mission around Saturn. All publicly released images of Saturn and its rings and moons from her team are posted on her team's website at Ciclops.
As the author of over 100 papers on various scientific topics such as the dynamical interactions between moons and planetary rings and the Saturnian moon Encladus, she is one of the most prolific female scientists working in the field today.In 1999, Porco was selected by The London Sunday Times as one of 18 scientific leaders of the 21st century.
She is also renowned as a public speaker. On May 10, 2008, Porco had the honor of delivering the opening speech for Pangaea Day, a TED-sponsored global broadcast coordinated from six different cities around the world.
Porco was also the science consultant on the 2009 Paramount Pictures movie Star Trek.
Above Left: Carolyn Porco with Uranus. (Supplied by NASA at Wikimedia Commons; Public Domain; http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Carolyn_Porco_with_Uranus.jpg)
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She Is An Astronomer
With the success of these women in astronomy and a number of others, the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in the U.K. and other organizations have come together to empower women and promote gender equality with the support of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. The website She Is An Astronomer pushes to provide a gender balanced platform in which people can take part in an Internet-based forum and database. Chairperson Helen Walker, an accomplished scientist in her own right, is in charge of this project and helps to empower women in this field.
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Conference on Women in Astronomy
One of the greatest recognitions in the field of astronomy and space sciences was held on October 21 through 23, 2009 in College Park, Maryland in the United States. NASA presented a conference to discuss the challenges of gender and the focus on diversity in the scientific work place. Sponsored by the Goddard Space Flight Center, National Science Foundation, University of Maryland and others, this meeting was a follow-up to a conference held in 2003 at CalTech. In addition to the concerns other organizations and the academic community in general recognize, this meeting also celebrated the increase in the percentage of established women in astronomy as well as those having entered the field in recent few years.
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Women's Center at CalTech: http://womenscenter.caltech.edu/
International Network of Women in Technology: http://www.witi.com/
Women in Science and Engineering: http://www.engr.washington.edu/curr_students/studentprogs/wise.html/
Association for Women in Science: http://www.awis.org/
Women in USNO History: http://maia.usno.navy.mil/women_history/history.html
Committee on the Status of Women in Astronomy: http://www.aas.org/cswa/
She is an astronomer: http://www.sheisanastronomer.org/