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

For those who 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 displays the Earth’s floor at the moment. 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’d 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 “sensible” concepts in an interview however advised her they had 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 Nineteen Fifties as certainly one of a small group of ladies at Hughes Plane Firm, the place she gained a popularity as a resourceful problem-solver. “She mentioned, ‘I used to be form of referred to as the one who may clear up not possible issues,’” her daughter, Naomi Norwood, advised NASA. “So individuals would carry issues to her, even items of different initiatives.”

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 needed to take images of the Earth from area to assist handle land assets; partnering with NASA, a plan was hatched to ship satellites into area. Then engaged on a complicated design group in Hughes’ area and communications division, Norwood fashioned the concept would outline her legacy. She gathered suggestions from agriculture, meteorology and geology consultants to develop a scanner to document completely different mild and power spectra. Though it used present 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 unlimited three-camera system developed by RCA utilizing tv tube know-how, which the businesses seen as the first imaging supply. To get the MSS onboard, Norwood was tasked with scaling again its measurement to not more than 100 lbs, a major downsizing; the RCA system took up a lot of the satellite tv for pc’s 4,000 lb. payload.

She decreased the system to recording solely 4 power bands (down from its unique seven) to make sure it could 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 pictures — 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 undertaking, which induced energy surges and needed to be shut down for good two weeks into the mission.

Landsat rapidly turned 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 results of local weather change at the moment, are nonetheless based mostly on her preliminary idea. Her different initiatives 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 situation 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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