Women’s History Month Shout Out: Dr. Ellen Ochoa

“What everyone in the astronaut corps shares in common
is not gender or ethnic background, but motivation, perseverance, and desire –
the desire to participate in a voyage of discovery.” – Ellen Ochoa


In 1993, Ellen Ochoa became the first Hispanic female astronaut. Her first mission was a nine-day mission aboard the Discovery space shuttle. Over the span of her career, Ochoa served on four space missions. Before becoming an astronaut, Ochoa earned three patents as for optical systems through her work as an engineer. She co-invented an optical inspection system, an optical object recognition method, and a noise removal method for imagery.

Ochoa was born in Los Angeles, California in 1958, but views La Mesa, California as her hometown. She has a strong academic background in the sciences, having received a bachelor’s of science in physics from San Diego State University, and a master’s of science and doctorate in electrical engineering from Stanford University. Ochoa worked, first as a doctoral student at Stanford, and then at NASA Ames Research Center, researching optical systems for image processing. She became the Intelligent Systems Technology Branch manager at Ames and was chosen to be an astronaut in 1990. As an astronaut, Ochoa logged nearly 1000 space flight hours.

Ochoa-Astronaut-CorpsThroughout her career, Ochoa has been recognized for her many accomplishments. She has received several awards from NASA including the Distinguished Service Medal, the Outstanding Leadership Medal, and four Space Flight Medals. In addition, Ochoa has also received the Women in Aerospace Outstanding Achievement Award and The Hispanic Engineer Albert Baez Award for Outstanding Technical Contribution to Humanity. Four schools have also been named in her honor.

Since 2012, Ochoa has served as the 11th director of Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. She is JSC’s first Hispanic and second female director. Ochoa is married with two children. She and her family live in Houston.

Writing Credit: Georgina Crepps
Sources: Johnson Space Center,  NASA Astronaut Bio: Ellen Ochoa

Check out the PBS documentary MAKERS: Women in Space to learn more about Dr. Ochoa and other women pioneers in the U.S. space program!

Women in History Shout Out

“… In that very straightforward way, Fran was part of the generation of women who blazed trails for girls and women who followed. That legacy of open doors is part of what she leaves behind. We are all the richer for it.” – Robin Greenler, Family Friend


Frances Dunkle Coffin (1922-2012) was born in a small town in central Pennsylvania and earned her undergraduate degree in chemistry at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania.  After a brief stint working as a paint chemist for the Armstrong Cork Company in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, Frances entered Cornell University’s graduate school in 1945, where she studied and worked with Simon Bauer and Richard Feynman, among others.

She completed her Ph.D. in physical chemistry in 1950 with a thesis entitled “An Investigation of the Acid Catalyzed Hydrolysis of Gamma-Butyrolactone”.  Frances then moved to Cleveland, Ohio to work at what was known at that time as the NACA Lewis Flight Propulsion Laboratory.  (It has since been renamed the NASA Glenn Research Center at Lewis Field.)  In 1951, she married Kenneth Putnam Coffin, a colleague at NASA whom she had met while doing graduate work at Cornell.

While at NASA, Frances focused her research in the field of thermodynamics and crystallography.  After having three  daughters, she worked part time for NASA from 1961 until 1971, when she left NASA.  While her children were young, Frances kept busy volunteering for the Girl Scouts, environmental causes, her local church, and the United Way.  Later, she returned to chemistry, teaching classes at Baldwin Wallace College and local community colleges.  During this period of her career, she was instrumental in introducing microscale chemistry to the curriculum, because of her interest in the environment.

Frances died in 2012 at Kendal at Oberlin in Ohio, where she and Kenneth enjoyed an active retirement in the company of friends from NASA and Cornell. She is survived by her three daughters and  by four grandsons, the older two of whom are carrying on the scientific tradition by studying mathematics and physics at college.

Writing Credit: The Coffin Family
Quote Credit: Robin Greenler is a close family friend who works in science education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Women's History Month Shout Out: Beate Sirota Gordon

“[She was] the woman who in February 1946 wrote the women’s clause of Japan’s new draft constitution, the impresario who for almost 40 years brought thoughtful, dazzling and original Japanese and Asian performing arts to American audiences”
– Nassrine Azimi 

Beate Sirota Gordon in Japan in 1946. Image retrieved from the Asia Society, courtesy of the Gordon family
Beate Sirota Gordon in Japan in 1946

Beate Sirota Gordon (1923-2012) was a long-unsung heroine of Japanese women’s rights, having written them into Japan’s post-World War II Constitution. First at the Japan Society and then the Asia Society, she worked tirelessly to introduce North American audiences to authentic and traditional artists from across Asia.

Beate (pronounced bay-AH-tay) was born in Vienna to Leo Sirota, the renowned Ukranian concert pianist, and the former Augustine Horenstein on 25 October 1923. The family moved to Tokyo when Beate was 5, where her father taught at the Imperial Academy of Music and she absorbed both Japanese language and culture. In 1939, just before she turned 16, Beate left for Mills College in Oakland, Calif. while her parents remained in Japan. 

In December 1941, the attack on Pearl Harbor made it impossible for Beate to contact her parents, leaving her alone with no financial support. While still a student at Mills, Beate put her foreign language skills (she was fluent in English, Japanese, German, French, Spanish, and Russian) to use, monitoring radio broadcasts from Tokyo for a United States government listening post in San Francisco. At that time, she was one of 100 Caucasians in the entire United States who were fluent in Japanese. She graduated from Mills College in 1943 and became a naturalized US citizen in 1945.  

When WWII ended, she still did not know whether her parents were alive or dead. Beate joined General MacArthur’s staff as an interpreter, and arrived in a devastated Tokyo on Christmas Eve, 1945. She found her parents malnourished but safe, having been interned in the countryside.

Beate was the only female assigned to MacArthur’s top-secret constitutional committee, charged with drafting Japan’s post-war constitution in just 7 days, a task which the Japanese government had failed to accomplish twice. As “the only woman in the room”, she was tasked with composing the section on women’s rights. She produced what became Article 24 of the Constitution of Japan

“Marriage shall be based only on the mutual consent of both sexes and it shall be maintained through mutual cooperation with the equal rights of husband and wife as a basis. With regard to choice of spouse, property rights, inheritance, choice of domicile, divorce and other matters pertaining to marriage and the family, laws shall be enacted from the standpoint of individual dignity and the essential equality of the sexes.”

Growing up she saw how women were treated in Japan; they were usually married to men they did not know, could inherit nothing, and could even be bought and sold like chattel. Beate understood the importance of having women’s rights recognized in the Constitution itself, and fought to preserve Article 24 in spite of protests from the Japanese negotiators. The 25-year oath of secrecy imposed upon the committee members kept her contributions to women’s rights unknown for decades.

Following her return to the United States, Beate worked to introduce North American audiences to traditional arts and performances from across Asia, first at the Japan Society and later the Asia Society. She traveled the continent scouring for talent, bringing Vietnamese water puppets, Javanese dancers, Korean pansori singers, and many others to stages throughout the United States and Canada. 

Women's History Month Shout Out: Pearl I. Young

“Pearl Young was indeed a remarkable woman. She was not only the first female professional employee of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), she was also a teacher, journalist, lecturer, author and world traveler.” – W. Hewitt Phillips

Pearl Young in the Instrument Research Laboratory at what is now NASA Langley Research Center

In 1922, Pearl I. Young (1895-1968) became the first woman hired as a technical employee, a physicist, of the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA), the agency that was the predecessor to NASA. The contributions she made led the way for professional women at Langley Research Center.

Pearl Young grew up in North Dakota and left home at age 11 to work as a domestic in order to attend high school. She also worked her way through college, graduating in 1919 from the University of North Dakota (UND) as a Phi Beta Kappa with a triple major in physics, mathematics, and chemistry. Following graduation, Young was offered a faculty position in the UND Department of Physics, where she taught for two years. In 1922 she accepted an appointment at the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory of the NACA (now NASA Langley Research Center) in Hampton, VA. She became the first professional woman employee at Langley and the second female physicist working for the federal government.

In 1929, Young was appointed as Langley’s first ever Chief Technical Editor. Perhaps her most lasting contribution to the NACA and NASA was setting up an editorial office and writing the “Style Manual for Engineering Authors”, a manual that set the format for reports on research conducted at Langley and was subsequently adopted by all of the NACA Centers.

Young was also a part-time reporter and feature editor for the regional newspaper, earning a front-page by-line for her interview of Eleanor Roosevelt. Young did not only report on noteworthy people and events. She experienced adventure firsthand, paying $800 for round trip ticket No. 1 on the first flight of the airship Hindenburg in 1936. She was one of the 50 passengers on the airship’s first flight, about a year before it crashed in flames into New Jersey. 

In 1943, Pearl Young left Langley for the brand-new NACA Aircraft Engine Research Laboratory (now NASA Glenn Research Center) in Cleveland, OH, where she trained the lab’s new technical editing staff. At the end of World War II, Young resigned her post as chief technical editor of the NACA and returned to teaching, accepting a position as Assistant Professor of Physics at Pennsylvania State College (now Penn State University). In 1957 she returned to Lewis Laboratory, where she conducted specialized bibliographical work until her retirement from NASA in 1961.

Sources:  North Dakota NASA Space Grant ConsortiumUND Discovery; Speech given by W. Hewitt Phillips, Langley Distinguished Research Associate, during the dedication ceremony of the Pearl I. Young Theater at NASA Langley Research Center (August 22, 1995)

Women in History Shout Out

Women will change the corporation more than we expect. – Anita Borg

Anita Borg (1949 – 2003) was an American computer scientist who received her doctorate in 1981 from New York University.  She received her first computer programming job in 1969, though she never intended to work in such a field.  She loved math while a student in school and taught herself to program while working at a small insurance company.  Beyond her career, Dr. Borg believed in creating a greater technical representation for women in technology.  She founded the Institute for Women and Technology and the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.   Dr. Borg was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1999 and passed away on April 6, 2003 as a result.  The Institute for Women and Technology was renamed to the Anita Borg Institute for Women and Technology and Google created a scholarship in her honor.

Women in History Shout Out

“I like to think of my work as creating a private conversation with each person, no matter how public each work is and no matter how many people are present.” – Maya Lin

(1959- ) Maya Lin was an undergraduate archaeology student at Yale University when in 1981 she entered a contest for a Vietnam war memorial design.  She was selected as the winner, amid protests from a small but vocal group over the minimalistic, non-grandeur remembrance.  Her design became two walls of polished black granite set below grade on which the names of more than 58,000 Americans were carved and arranged chronologically, according to the year of death or disappearance.  Today, the Vietnam War memorial garners over 10,000 visitors daily and is often remarked for its powerful, abstract effect. She has balanced artistry, with a focus in landscapes, and architecture throughout her career, including a feature at the Pace Gallery in New York City.  She has long been attracted to social issues and addressed them in her memorials, such as the Civil Rights Memorial in Alabama and the Women’s Table at Yale University.  She was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Barack Obama, and she continues to work today in her field of art and architecture.

Women in History Shout Out

Dear Women@NASA Loyal Readers:

As I am sure you have noticed, it’s been a while since we have written.  Numerous excuses aside, I am eager to keep this blog going.  So, I hope you check back as often as you have in the past!  Today, I had a vision for this blog.  I decided why must we only honor women in history during one month out of the year?  Why not showcase their work and respect them year round?  And that’s exactly what I am going to do!  I shall call it our “Women in History Shout Out” and post at least one every week.  It’s meant to be short and informative.  A quote, a one to two liner about her, and a picture.  Hope you enjoy!



“I have frequently been questioned, especially by women, of how I could reconcile family life with a scientific career. Well, it has not been easy.” 

-Marie Curie

Marie Curie (1867 – 1934) was a physicist and chemist who made major discoveries in the field of radioactivity. She was the first person to win two Nobel Prizes and the University of Paris’ first female professor.

Women in History Shout Out

“All adventures, especially into new territory, are scary.” – Sally Ride

(1951- ) Former astronaut and first American woman in space.  Dr. Sally Ride was selected as an astronaut candidate in 1978 and flew for the first time in 1983.  After retiring from the astronaut corp, Dr. Ride joined the University of Califorinia at San Diego as a professor and started her own organization called Sally Ride Science to encourage young girls to enter science, math, technology, and engineering fields.

Women in History Shout Out

“More women should demand to be involved. It’s our right. This is one area where we can get in on the ground floor and possibly help to direct where space exploration will go in the future.” – Dr. Mae Jemison

(1956- ) American physician and former astronaut who became the first African-American woman in space in 1992.  She left NASA in 1993 to start her own company on adapting technology to daily life.

Women's History Month Shout Out

“…Now and then women should do for themselves what men have already done – occasionally what men have not done–thereby establishing themselves as persons, and perhaps encouraging other women toward greater independence of thought and action. Some such consideration was a contributing reason for my wanting to do what I so much wanted to do.” -Amelia Earhart

(1897-Unknown)-Ms. Amelia Earhart was the first woman to make a solo flight across the Atlantic, May 20-21, 1932. The aircraft crew’s flight made headlines around the world since three women had perished within the same year attempting to be the first woman to accomplish such a feat. When the crew returned to the US, they were greeted with a fitting ticker-tape parade in New York City and a reception hosted by President Calvin Coolidge at the White House.  It was, indeed, a momentous occasion.  Ms. Earhart, among other notable recognitions, was also the first woman to make a solo round trip of the United States. Sadly, Ms. Earhart and her navigator, Fred Noonan, disappeared on July 2, 1937 over the Pacific Ocean while on an around-the-world flight.  A national rescue attempt was instigated immediately, according to the official Amelia Earhart website.  It remains the most extensive air and sea search in naval history. On July 19, despite $4 million spent and 250,000 square miles of ocean scoured, the US government reluctantly retreated.

Sources: Amelia Earhart Official Website and National Park Service