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'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)

International Women's Day 2013

Hello Women@NASA Blog Readers!

Today we celebrate International Women’s Day, a day in which we honor and celebrate the contributions of women as well as recommit ourselves to fight for the rights of women and girls around the world. In honor of Women’s History Month, the Women@NASA blog will be featuring a weekly Women in History Shout Out

This week we are highlighting a woman whose bravery and efforts truly embody the 2013 United Nation’s International Women’s Day theme: “A promise is a promise: Time for action to end violence against women”. 

“There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable.” – UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon

Today’s Women’s History Month Shout Out is to Fartun Abdisalaan Adan, Executive Director of Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre in Somalia. Ms. Fartun Adan is one of the 2013 recipients of the Secretary of State’s International Women of Courage Award. This award annually recognizes women around the globe who have shown exceptional courage and leadership in advocating for women’s rights and empowerment, often at great personal risk.

The International Women of Courage Award ceremony begins at 3 p.m. EST and will be livestreamed at www.state.gov. Attendees and those watching the livestream are encouraged to use the Twitter hashtag #IWOC and #IWD when discussing the events.

Fartun Adan - State Dept Image

Image Credit: U.S. Department of State
Ms. Fartun Adan is the Executive Director of the Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre, a Somali NGO based in Mogadishu, Somalia. Ms. Adan has been a champion of human and women’s rights, peace-building, the rehabilitation of child soldiers across Somalia, and the support of sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) victims. She and her husband, Elman, worked as peace activists for many years, taking in child soldiers, providing them with education and job training, and reintegrating them into the community. In 1996, Somali warlords assassinated her husband for their peacemaking efforts. After Ms. Adan’s husband was murdered, his family took over the organization, leaving her with nothing. Without financial means, Ms. Adan fled to Canada as a refugee where she raised her three daughters.  
In 2007, at the height of conflict in Mogadishu, Ms. Adan returned to Somalia to continue the work that she and her husband had begun; beginning by restarting the Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre’s vital programs. Ms. Adan initiated a Sister Somalia program in 2010 to support SGBV victims who had survived rapes and/or escaped forced marriages. In addition to this program, Ms. Adan established the first sexual violence hotline and rape crisis center in Somalia in 2011. Since its founding, the center has served over 400 Somali women and girls, providing counseling and medical services, entrepreneurial skills training, business start-up kits and funding, as well as relocation to a safe haven. The Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre continues to reintegrate former child soldiers back into society through education and job training skills. On average, 350 youths are trained through this program each year, and Ms. Adan plans to expand this number to 700 for 2013.

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

Women's History Month Shout Out

“It was Franklin’s photographic skills that made the discovery possible.She could take photographs of crystals… and interpret the patterns…a particular genius at aligning hand and mind.” – Brenda Maddox on Rosalind Franklin, Author of Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA

(1920-1958) Dr. Rosalind Franklin was a British scientist with notable recognitions, the most famous of which was her X-ray crystallography images of DNA.  Together with James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins, they discovered the building block of life in 1953.  The three men shared a Nobel Prize in 1962, an award that cannot be claimed posthumously.  Dr. Franklin succumbed to ovarian cancer in 1958 at the young age of 37. 

Sources:  NPR, NIH, and PBS

Women's History Month Shout Out

All of us have to recognize that we owe our children more than we have been giving them.” – Hillary Clinton

Date: 2009-01-13 00:00:00.0 Description: Hillary Rodham Clinton testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to be Secretary of State. State Dept Photo

(1947- ) Hillary Rodham Clinton served as First Lady during her husband Bill Clinton’s presidency from 1992-2000.  She then served as a U.S. Senator representing the state of New York from 2001-2009.  Currently, she is the Secretary of State as part of the Obama Administration.  Secretary Clinton came very close to being the nation’s first female presidential nominee in 2008, losing in the Democratic primaries to then Senator Barack Obama. 

Source: The Department of State

Women's History Month Shout Out

“At a time when women had few options and were treated as property, Hypatia move freely and unself-consciously through the traditional male domains.  By all accounts, she was a great beauty.” – Carl Sagan on Hypatia of Alexandria, in Cosmos

(ca. AD 350/370–415) Hypatia of Alexandria was a mathematician and philosopher.  She was the daughter of a mathematician named Theon Alexandricus and last librarian of the Library of Alexandria in ancient Roman Egypt.  Hypatia was educated in Athens and Italy and became the head of the Platonist school at Alexandria.  Her notable students included Plato and Aristotle.  Hypatia is regarded as the first woman to have made substantial contributions to math.

Sources: Oregon State University and Wikipedia (for birth dates)

Women's History Month Shout Out

“Is this America where we have to sleep with our phones off the hooks because we be threatened daily just cause we want to register to vote to become first class citizens?”  – Fannie Lou Hamer

(1917-1977) Fannie Lou Hamer was a civil rights activist, with an emphasis on voting rights. Despite failures in actions she took, Hamer continued to work for things in which she truly believed.  For instance, at the age of 37, Hamer joined the the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, working to teach African-Americans how to read and write so they could register to vote.  As a result, 17 African-Americans tried to register to vote and were  denied.  Hamer and her family were threatened with expulsion from the plantation at which they were poor sharecroppers.  Soon thereafter,  she was targeted by the Ku Klux Klan. In her personal life, Hamer was unable to bear children due to a tumor and together with her husband, they adopted four children, two girls and two boys, all from poor families.   

Sources: Howard University and Fannie Lou Hamer Site

Women's History Month Shout Out

“These men and women have assumed great risk in the service to all humanity in an age where spaceflight as come to seem almost routine.  It is easy to overlook the travels of danger by rocket…These astronauts…[knew] they had a high and noble purpose in life.  Because of their courage and daring and idealism, we will miss them all the more.” -Former President George W. Bush after the Columbia tragedy

(1961-2003) Dr. Kalpana Chawla was one of our nation’s astronauts with her selection in 1994.  She was born in and grew up in India before moving to the United States to attend graduate school in Texas.  She worked at NASA Ames Research Center before selection as an astronaut.  Dr. Chawla and her crewmates perished in the Columbia tragedy on Feburary 1, 2003.  In her personal life, Dr. Chawla enjoyed hiking and flying, and she held a commercial pilot’s license.