June 15, 2024

Virginia Norwood, the aerospace pioneer who invented the scanners used to map and study the Earth from space for more than 50 years, has died at her home in Topanga, California, at the age of 96.

her death is Announce Courtesy of the US Geological Survey, whose Landsat satellite program relies on her invention. Her daughter, Naomi Norwood, said her mother was found dead in her bed on the morning of March 27.

Flying at high speed 438 miles above the surface, Landsat satellites orbit the Earth every 99 minutes, taking a complete image of the Earth every 16 days since 1972. The images provide powerful visual evidence of climate change, deforestation and other changes affecting the planet. Welfare.

Ms Norwood is a physicist who designed and supported the scanners that made the project possible.nasa call her “Mother of Landsats.”

At the dawn of the space exploration era in the 1950s and 60s, she worked for the Hughes Aircraft Company, developing instruments. As one of a small group of women in a male-dominated industry, she stands out with great insight.

“She said, ‘I’m considered someone who can solve the impossible,'” Naomi Norwood told NASA video on its website. “So people would bring her stuff, even scraps of other projects.”

In the late 1960s, after NASA’s lunar missions sent back spectacular pictures of Earth, the director of the Geological Survey thought that pictures of Earth from space could help the agency manage land resources. The agency will work with NASA, which will send satellites into space to take the pictures.

Ms. Norwood was part of the Hughes Space and Communications Division’s Advanced Design Group, which enlisted scientists specializing in agriculture, meteorology, pollution and geology. She concluded that scanners that record multiple light and energy spectra could be modified for planetary projects being considered by the Geological Survey and NASA, such as those used for local agricultural observations.

The Geological Survey and NASA plan to use the massive three-camera system RCA designed, based on television picture tube technology that was used to map the Moon. Most of the 4,000-pound payload on NASA’s first Landsat satellite went to the RCA equipment.

Ms. Norwood and Hughes were told that their Multispectral Scanner System, or MSS, could be included if they weighed 100 pounds or less.

Ms Norwood had to scale back her scanner to record just four bands of energy in the electromagnetic spectrum instead of the seven she had planned. Scanners must also be highly accurate. In her first design, each pixel represented 80 meters.

The device has a 9 x 13-inch mirror that bounces back and forth through the scanner 13 times per second. Scientists from the Geological Survey and NASA are skeptical.

A senior Hughes engineer pulled the device out of a truck and drove it around California to test it and convince skeptics that it would work. It did – spectacularly. Ms. Norwood hung one of the paintings of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park on the wall of her home for the rest of her life.

On July 23, 1972, the first Landsat satellite was launched into space. Two days later, the scanners sent back the first images of the Ouachita Mountains in Oklahoma; they were stunning. According to 2021 MIT Technology Review Article, a geologist burst into tears. Another, who has been skeptical of the scanner, said: “I was dead wrong about this. I wasn’t going to eat a crow. Not big enough. I was going to eat a crow.”

The RCA system should be the primary recording instrument on the satellite, with the MSS the secondary experiment.

“But once we looked at the data, the roles changed,” said Stan Freden, Landsat 1 project scientist. According to a report by NASA.

It turns out that MSS is not only better, but more reliable. Two weeks after liftoff, a power surge in the RCA camera-based system compromised the satellite and the camera had to be shut down.

Over the next 50 years, new Landsat satellites replaced earlier ones. Ms. Norwood oversaw the development of Landsat 2, 3, 4 and 5. Currently, Landsat 8 and 9 are orbiting the Earth, and NASA plans to launch Landsat 10 in 2030. Each generation of satellites added more imaging capabilities, but always based on Ms. Norwood’s original concept.

The Landsat program maps changes to Earth caused by climate change and human activity. These include the near disappearance of the Aral Sea between Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, the shrinking Great Salt Lake in Utah, the changing shape of the Mississippi Delta, and increased deforestation and agricultural land use in Turkey and Brazil. ‌‌‌

Virginia Tower was born on January 8, 1927, in Fort Totten, New York, to John Vogler and Eleanor (Monroe) Tower. Ms Tower is a homemaker and a linguist who speaks nine languages. Mr. Tower is a decorated Army colonel with a master’s degree in physics who eventually taught at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University).

He encouraged Virginia to study mathematics and physics, and made her first slide rule with her when she was 9 years old. As a military family, they moved frequently, living in places like Panama, Oklahoma and Bermuda. Virginia attended five different high schools before graduating as a speaker at Germantown High School in Philadelphia.

Her school counselor suggested she become a librarian, an advice she ignored and applied to MIT instead, where she was one of about a dozen women who entered her class.

The day after she graduated in 1947, she married graduate student Lawrence Norwood, her third-semester calculus tutor. They have three children: Naomi, David and Peter. The marriage ended in divorce and Ms Norwood married Morris Shafer, who died in 2010. She leaves behind Naomi and Peter; an older sister, Barbara; five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

According to the MIT and NASA article, after graduating, Ms. Norwood encountered the prejudices that permeated society at the time. When interviewing at Sikorsky Aircraft, she asked for a salary comparable to the lowest rank in the civil service, but was told the company would never pay a woman that much.

She withdrew her application to be in the food lab after she was asked to pledge that she would not become pregnant.

She had three interviews at gun maker Remington, in which she outlined how a mathematician could improve the company’s operations. The hiring manager called and said she had a great idea, but the company wanted to hire a man.

Desperate, she landed a job selling blouses at a department store in New Haven, Connecticut.

Eventually, she and her husband were hired by the U.S. Army Signal Corps Laboratory in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. She worked in the Weather Radar Division, where she designed a radar reflector for weather balloons that could detect previously untraceable winds at 100,000 feet.

She later moved on to the antenna group, working on antennas that used microwaves, and designed one that is still classified. In 1953, she and her husband moved to California and took a job at Sylvania Electronic Defense Labs in Mountain View, where they established the company’s first antenna lab.

A year later, the couple moved to Los Angeles, where she was hired by Hughes Aircraft Corporation’s research and development department, the only woman among the department’s 2,700 employees. In 1957, she was promoted to head the microwave group at the company’s missile lab, becoming the first woman to join the technical staff at Hughes.

An MIT Technology Review article said a man quit with Ms. Norwood as his boss, saying he didn’t want to work for a woman. He came back a few years later to look for a job, but she turned it down.

In her new role, Ms. Norwood designed the transmitter and receiver for the world’s first communications satellite. A few years later, NASA sent a lander called Surveyor to the moon to scout possible landing sites for astronauts. Ms. Norwood’s team designed the equipment the lander uses to communicate with ground controls.

In a 2020 article on NASA’s website calling her the “mother” of Landsat, Ms Norwood said she was happy with the moniker.

“Yeah, I love it and it fits,” she said. “I created it, I bred it, I fought for it.”

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