Women of History: Sally Ride

When I was 8 years old, the film Apollo 13 came out.  I was immediately fascinated with the space program and its history.  My main focus was on the programs prior to the space shuttle so I never looked into the history of the space shuttle outside of general missions before recently.  However, one of my personal ‘heroes’ was Sally Ride, and I decided for this week to feature the first american woman in space.

Sally Kristen Ride was born on May 26, 1951 in Los Angeles, California. Her parents, while not scientists themselves, promoted her interest in exploring. When she was 12, she was able to see the first female cosmonaut in space, Valentina Tereshkova, take her turn.  It would be 1982 before another woman would enter space.

After graduating from a private high school she attended on tennis scholarship, she attended Swarthmore College.  Eventually she would transfer to Stanford University, where she would earn her bachelor degree in both english and Physics.  She continued her education in physics, eventually gaining her PhD in Physics in 1978.  Her main focus was lasers and astrophysics.

While finishing her doctorate, she answered an advertisement seeking applicants for NASA.  She was chosen to join in 1978, and would continue to be a part of NASA’s team for the next several decades. Her class of astronauts were the first to include women, and she was one of six. She didn’t immediately get on a shuttle.  Her first positions were as a communicator between the ground and the capsule for the second and third space shuttle flights (Columbia STS-2 and STS-3) in the early eighties.  She was also on the team to develop some of the technology that would be installed in later Shuttles, such as the Canada-Arm robotic arm.

In 1982, the USSR launched another woman into space, this time Svetlana Savitskaya.   It would be the following year that Sally got to be the first American woman to reach earth orbit.  Her first mission was the Challenger STS-7 mission.

Like every other astronaut she prepared for her mission, and did press conferences.Prior to the launch in June,  Sally did a press run.  People were fascinated with how a woman would deal with the rigors of space travel – although several questions were sexist in nature.  She was asked about her reproductive cycle, and if she cried if things went wrong. People at NASA wondered if she needed a 100 tampons on her trip.

On June 18, 1983, the Challenger launched and was in orbit for nearly seven days (returning to earth on June 24th).  Sally was on board with four other crew members, all but one rookies, and together they launched several satellites, and conducted experiments.  It also allowed her to use the arm she helped design. Overall it was a successful mission.

A year later, in 1984, Sally traveled into space again on the Challenger STS-41-G.  This mission lasted for nearly 9 days.  It was also a mission with several firsts.  It was the first time two women had served on the same mission (Sally and Kathryn Sullivan), and it also contained two foreign astronauts.  It was also a crew of seven, the most crew members that the shuttle had held to that point.  An IMAX camera was used to film the flight, and the footage was later used in the film ‘The Dream is Alive’.

Sally’s third mission was scheduled for the summer of 1986, but was cancelled when tragedy struck in January.  On January 28, 1986 the Challenger was launched, but never made it to orbit.  the ship exploded in mid-flight, leading to the deaths of all on board.  For the next two years, missions were scrubbed and a in-depth investigation took place to prevent it from happening again.  Sally was assigned to one of the teams investigating the operations.

After the end of the investigation, Sally was put in charge of putting together an Office of Exploration in DC and making plans for the future of NASA after such a tragedy.  This would be her last assignment for NASA, choosing to go into education afterwards.  However, it was not her last involvement with the agency.

In 1987 she started to work at Stanford as part of the Center for International Security and Arms control, and two years later she became a professor of physics at the University of California in San Diego.  She also became involved with NASA’s outreach programs to educate students and promote science and exploration. This would become a focus of Sally’s public life in the 90s and 2000s.

In 1985, she became involved with the love of her life, Tam O’Shaughnessy.  They had been long time friends, and their romantic relationship was kept private from the general public who didn’t know until after Sally’s death 27 years later.  Sally had been married once before, to fellow astronaut Steve Hawley, but that had ended in divorce in 1987.

Their relationship was also a professional one.  Sally and Tam wrote several children’s science books over the years, and founded the Sally Ride Science organization in 2001 which promoted education and women in STEM occupations.  After Sally’s death, Tam would continue to run the organization.  The organization also ran the Sally Ride Science Festival, an event to promote science.

Sally would also be the president of Space.Com (One of the sources below)

Sally would once again be asked to be part of the investigation of a tragedy, this time the disintegration of the Columbia spacecraft in February 1, 2003.  She was the only person to have served on both investigations.

Sally was private about her personal life, including when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in early 2011.  On July 23, 2012 she died in her home in California.

After her death, she received several honors for her space travel and promotion of education and science.  President Barack Obama presented her posthumously with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, and during that same year she was honored by the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.  She received the highest honor given by the Space Foundation with General James E. Hill Lifetime Space Achievement Award.

Perhaps Sally’s most important legacy is the one she has as woman.  Girls, like myself, grew up knowing they could make in space and in the science fields.  She promoted women in the STEM fields, and the education of children in space related sciences.  She also became posthumously a hero for the LGBTIA community.

In May 2018, the US Postal Service will be releasing a stamp in her honor.  This June will be the 35th Anniversary of her first mission into space.

Further Reading:

Wikipedia: Sally Ride
Wikipedia: STS-7
Wikipedia: STS-41-G /STS-17
Wikipedia: STS-61-M
Space.Com: Sally Ride
Sally Ride Science @ UC San Diago
NASA Biography: Sally K. Ride
A Brief History of menstruating in space
US Post Office Sally Ride Stamp

 

Women of History: Saruhashi Katsuko

This week we travel to modern Japan.  Katsuko Saruhashi was a Japanese geochemist and became known for creating the tools to test for Co2 levels in water.  This lead to the discovery of radioactive fallout in the waters around Japan after the 1954 Bikini Atoll nuclear tests.

Katsuko was born on March 22, 1920 in Tokyo, Japan.  As a child she became interested in the dynamics of rain and water, and it would be an interest that would drive her career.  There is not much available from online sources about her childhood, but her career has a lot more out there.

She graduated with a degree in chemistry from the Imperial Women’s College of Science, which would later become Toho University.  She started a career in research at the Meteorological Research Institute.  It had a geochemical laboratory, which she would become the executive director of eventually.

While she started her research, she also continued her studies.  She graduated with a doctorate in 1957 from the University of Tokyo. She made history for the university becoming the first women to graduate with a Doctorate in Chemistry.

Her main study was the carbon dioxide levels in seawater. It was a relatively new area of study, and she was forced to improvise in her methods.  She developed methodologies and tools to be used with the study. Eventually she discovered that sea water has 60% more carbon dioxide then the air above it and gives off twice as much as it absorbs.  Her paper, published in 1955, would serve as the basis of oceanography study for three decades when it came to carbonic acid measurements, and aided to the developing understanding of climate change and global warming.

She became involved in another ocean related study in the late 1950s, when the Japanese government asked the laboratory to conduct tests on the radioactivity of the water surrounding the Bikini Atoll testing site.

In March of 1954, the United States completed “Operation Castle” which was a series of high-yield nuclear tests to develop aircraft viable nuclear weapons.  The sites for this operation were held across several Islands in Marsha Islands, particularly Bikini Atoll where there were 3 test sites. Atolls were islands made from volcanic rock receding leaving a coral reef remains, surrounding a lagoon.  They often appear as small circles of land around a center water area.  Several of reefs above ground become small islands to make up the atoll.

One test, known as Castle Bravo, detonated twice its predicted yields, and ended up contamination several nearby islands, as well as US Soldiers stationed in the area and a Japanese fishing boat known as the Daigo Fukuryu Maru.  One person died as a direct result of the test, but many continued to have health problems.  This brought the test to the Japanese government’s attention.

The tests and research the lab did proved that the fall out of radioactive activity did not simply affect the immediate area of the incident.  The fall out could travel via the ocean and air.   It was the first study of its kind.  They continued to watch the waters till into the 1970s, finding that the radioactive particles from Bikini Atoll had reached the other side of the Pacific Ocean.  This test and those that followed helped the push for a Test Ban Treaty, limiting the fall out of radioactive bomb testing.

However, her results weren’t always trusted.  Several times the fact that she was female, and because she was not an American, her studies were questioned.  However she succeeded to prove her scientific discoveries again and again, earning her the respect she was already due.

In 1979, Katusko was named the executive director of the Geochemical Laboratory.  She continued to investigate water chemistry, focusing on acid rain and its effects.

Over her years as a scientist, she won many awards. She was able to establish the Society of Japanese Women Scientists (1958) to promote women in the sciences.  After her retirement in 1980, she took a gift of 5 million yen and used it to establish an organization looking for the future of women scientists.  It was called the Association for the Bright Future of Women Scientists. In 1981, she established an award in her own name known as the Saruhashi Prize, which was given to a female scientist whose studies are in the natural sciences who has been a good role model for younger women scientists. 37 women have received the award since its inception.  In the further reading section, I’ve included a link to a page on Wikipedia that lists the recipients.  Several have their own pages and it’s a good start to researching women in science in Japan.

Saruhashi Katusko died on September 29, 2007.  Her image appeared this year as a Google Doodle on what would have been her 98th birthday.  She left behind a legacy of science, and of determination to see that other women could achieve the success that she found.

A quote I have found in various sources seems to show her view:

“There are many women who have the ability to become great scientists. I would like to see the day when women can contribute to science & technology on an equal footing with men.”

Further Reading:

Wikipedia: Saruhashi Katsuko

Newsweek: Who was Katsuko Saruhashi?

Wikipedia: Operation Castle

Wikipedia: Bikini Atoll

Wikipedia: Sarahashi Prize

Japanese Femist Debates: A Life Story of Sarauhashi Katsuko – Sumiko Hatakeyama

A to Z of Women in Science in Math – Lisa Yount

 

(writer’s note:  I found that there was a lack of variety of sources for this particular feature with the time I had for researching.  I, like always, suggest doing some research on your own on the women you find interesting.  )

Women of History: Hedy Lamarr

One of the people I wanted to write about when I started this essay series was a classic film star named Hedy Lamarr.  In fact I had to check to make sure I hadn’t written about her before.  ​

Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler on November 9, 1914 in Vienna, Austria.  She was born into a jewish family, but was raised as a Catholic by her mother Gertrud.  Her mother was from Budapest and her father was Ukrainian, but she grew up in Austria in the years following the first World War.  She was an only child, adored by her parents, although her mother tried to be stricter to balance things out.  Her father inspired an interest in learning how things worked, while her mother inspired her artistic side, which focused on Acting rather than musician as her mother had been.

Early on, Hedy decided that acting was a career she was interested in, and worked purposely to get it.  She worked as a script girl (forging school absence slips so she could get the job), and small background parts before getting her big break in a 1933 film Ecstasy.  The film was controversial in the US, but seen as artistic in Europe.  For Hedy, it was a disillusionment of the shine of an acting career.  She had been only 18, and was tricked by the director and other crew members into close up nude scenes.

For awhile she considered not continuing, but the film got recognition and other roles were presented to her, and it had always been her dream to be an actress.  She continued to do stage work, which brought her to the attention of Friedrich Mandl, an Austrian arms merchant.  He was quite wealthy and charming and won Hedy over.

Hedy married Mandl on August 10, 1933.   He was 33 to her 18.  She found herself often attending parties and business meetings with her husband, who took to being overly protective and prefered to keep her at his side.  He had strong ties with the fascist government of Italy, as well as the Nazi government of Hitler.  Hitler and Mussolini would even attend parties thrown in the couple’s own home.

While acting remained her career, it was during this time that Hedy was introduced to applied sciences.  She would listen and learn during the business meetings and parties, her interest in how things work developed into learning as she listened to the others speak about weapons and the science that went into the development.

However, in 1937, Hedy decided she had enough.  She did not appreciate a life as a trophy wife for Mandl, and had become disillusioned with her own country.  She left her husband and Austria behind and fled to Paris.

It was in Paris that her life would change.  While she was there, she met MGM Studios head LB Mayer.  Mayer was impressed with her acting, and convinced her to join MGM, although with a stage name.  Hedy was no longer Hedy Kiesler – She became Hedy Lemarr.

Her first film in the United States was Algiers in 1938 opposite Charles Boyer.  She won over crowds with her talent and her beauty.  Unfortunately this also made it hard for her to get a variety of roles.

She was called the ‘Most Beautiful Woman in the World’, and her roles often relied on that reputation. She became the inspiration for Snow White and Catwoman because of her beauty. It did however leave Hedy bored, as her roles often came with little challenge to the actress type-casted into the role of the stunning foreign woman.  When not on set, she was able to focus her intellect on her hobbies-including inventing.

Hedy had no formal education when it came to inventing, just what she had learned from observing her first husband’s business meetings and what she had later taught herself.  However, she had caught the bug for inventing.  Some were flops – like a tablet that would make a glass of water into a carbonated beverage.  In the end it wasn’t much different then Alka-seltzer.

However, some of them were successful, and even well-known.  During the second war, Hedy had heard about issues that the military was having torpedo frequencies being interrupted by the enemy and sending their missiles off course. She already knew that her husband and other arms dealers supplying the Axis had been developing ways to jam the frequencies before she left Austria. She decided to work on the problem, and got her friend George Antheil, a music composer, to help her.  The two of them had been friends for several years and shared a strong need to help out the war effort.  Antheil was a composer, and was known for experimenting with different instruments and mechanical devices to create sound.  It was through the use of a piano roll that the two developed the idea for spread spectrum radio.   The idea was that sending out a signal that would ‘hop’ across several frequencies – known to the sender and receiver – would prevent someone from turning on the same frequency and jamming the signal from reaching its target.  They called this  “Secret Communications System.”​

They were successful, and patented their designs in August of 1942.  At the time, however, the importance of this invention was unknown.  Technology made it hard to implement and it was ignored or put on the back burner.  In fact, George Antheil, who died in 1959, would not live to see it in action.

However over the next few decades technology started to catch up with Hedy & George’s idea.  In the 1960s, the military had taken the idea and developed a version to use in their ships during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, twenty years after Hedy & George had patented the idea.  The full impact of spread spectrum radio would not be felt till a few more decades past and the internet started to grow.  It allowed for faster internet connections, and was the underlying work on which GPS, Bluetooth and Wifi were based on.

So you can thank Hedy Lamarr for many of the communications technology that we use every day, such as cellphones, the GPS in our car, using Bluetooth to talk handless through our phones or vehicles, and being able to have mobile internet available to tablets, laptops and phones without the need to have wires dragging behind us.

Hedy’s contribution to science and communication technology was not really recognized until the late nineties, when she received the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer award in 1997 for her invention.  SHe was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014, four years after her death.

In her personal life, Hedy found more obstacles than success at times.  She would marry five more times, have three children, and even write her own memoir.  But she would also deal with increasing agoraphobia, discord with her children (in particular her eldest), and public scandals.  At one point she was rumored to have an addiction to prescription pills as well.  THe various depths of her problems depend on the source of the information. Hedy herself was a very private person, and even admitted later in life to not writing a truthful memoir.

Hedy died on January 19, 2000 at the age of 85.  She had lived long enough to see herself become a “classic film star” and see her invention finally be put to real use.

Further Reading:

Wikipedia: Hedy Lamarr 

Biography.com: Hedy Lamarr 

Women Inventors: Hedy Lamarr

The Official Hedy Lamarr Website

Anna Couey: How “The Bad Boy Of Music” And “The Most Beautiful
Girl In The World” Catalyzed A Wireless Revolution–In 1941
  (1997)

Women in STEM: Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr: Inventor of Frequency Hopping

Orlando Sentinel: Court to Weigh Plea of Lamarr’s estranged son

Hedy’s Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy the Lamarr, the most beautiful woman in the world – Richard Rhodes (via Google Books)

Vanity Fair: How Inventive “Genius” Hedy Lamarr Became a Hollywood Tragedy

Smithsonian:  Team Hollywood’s Secret Weapons System

The Marketplace: The Story of Hedy Lamarr

The Atlantic: Celebrity Invention: Hedy Lamarr’s Secret Communications System

 

To read more in this series, see the Master list