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How Valerie Thomas became a NASA icon


Valerie L. Thomas is an American scientist and inventor. She changed the world space exploration, tech, 3D and education.

In short, she is an icon.


 


 

Thomas elevated the space program (satellites) and much more

Thomas is responsible for several critical inventions and breakthroughs. she invented the illusion transmitter, for which she received a patent in 1980. She was also responsible for developing the digital media formats image processing systems used in the early years of NASA's Landsat program, and even had her hands in what we now call 3D and the internet.

On October 21, 1980, she obtained the patent for the illusion transmitter, a device NASA continues to use today, and it's being adapted for use in surgery, as well as for televisions and video screens. The illusion transmitter allows two-dimensional images to be observed as if they were three dimensional. Consequently Thomas's invention not only led to the creation of 3-D movies, but also the technology is still used today by NASA.






Thomas goes mainstream

Thomas became associate chief of the Space Science Data Operations Office at NASA. It was not only a milestone for women but also for NASA. Her invention has been depicted in a children's fictional book, television, and in video games. She is one of the key individuals in NASA's history to influence multiple genres of modern entertainment, video games, media and publishing.


SPAN, Computer Connectivity & the Internet

In 1985, as the NSSDC Computer Facility manager, Thomas was responsible for a major consolidation and reconfiguration of two previously independent computer facilities, and infused them with new technology. She then served as the Space Physics Analysis Network (SPAN) project manager from 1986 to 1990 during a period when SPAN underwent a major reconfiguration and grew from a scientific network with approximately 100 computer nodes to one directly connecting approximately 2,700 computer nodes worldwide. Thomas' team was credited with developing a computer network that connected research stations of scientists from around the world to improve scientific collaboration. In 1990, SPAN became a major part of NASA's science networking and today's Internet. She also participated in projects related to Halley's Comet, ozone research, satellite technology, and the Voyager spacecraft.

MENTOR-ROLE MODEL

Thomas mentored countless numbers of students in the Mathematics Aerospace Research and Technology Inc. program. Because of her unique career and commitment to giving something back to the community, Thomas often spoke to groups of students from elementary school, secondary, college, and university ages, as well as adult groups. As a role model for potential young black engineers and scientists, she made hundreds of visits to schools and national meetings over the years. She has mentored many students working in summer programs at Goddard Space Flight Center. She also judged at science fairs, working with organizations such as the National Technical Association (NTA) and Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). These latter programs encourage students from various underrepresented groups to pursue science and technology careers.

Life after NASA

Thomas cultivated an astounding career at NASA. At the end of August 1995, she retired from NASA and her positions of associate chief of the NASA Space Science Data Operations Office, manager of the NASA Automated Systems Incident Response Capability, and as chair of the Space Science Data Operations Office Education Committee.


Throughout her career, Thomas held high-level positions at NASA including heading the Large Area Crop Inventory Experiment (LACIE) collaboration between NASA, NOAA, and USDA in 1974, serving as assistant program manager for Landsat/Nimbus (1975–1976), managing the NSSDC Computer Facility (1985), managing the Space Physics Analysis Network project (1986–1990), and serving as associate chief of the Space Science Data Operations Office. She authored many scientific papers and holds a patent for the illusion transmitter. For her achievements, Thomas has received numerous awards including the Goddard Space Flight Center Award of Merit and the NASA Equal Opportunity Medal.

 

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