A History of Women in Astronomy and Space Exploration
Exploring the Trailblazers of STEM
by Dale DeBakcsy
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Pub Date 30 Apr 2023 | Archive Date 04 May 2023
Pen & Sword, Pen & Sword History
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For the last four hundred years, women have played a part far in excess of their numerical representation in the history of astronomical research and discovery. It was a woman who gave us our first tool for measuring the distances between stars, and another who told us for the first time what those stars were made of. It was women who first noticed the rhythmic noise of a pulsar, the temperature discrepancy that announced the existence of white dwarf stars, and the irregularities in galactic motion that informed us that the universe we see might be only a small part of the universe that exists.
And yet, in spite of the magnitude of their achievements, for centuries women were treated as essentially second class citizens within the astronomical community, contained in back rooms, forbidden from communicating with their male colleagues, provided with repetitive and menial tasks, and paid starvation wages. This book tells the tale of how, in spite of all those impediments, women managed, by sheer determination and genius, to unlock the secrets of the night sky. It is the story of some of science's most hallowed names - Maria Mitchell, Caroline Herschel, Vera Rubin, Nancy Grace Roman, and Jocelyn Bell-Burnell - and also the story of scientists whose accomplishments were great, but whose names have faded through lack of use - Queen Seondeok of Korea, who built an observatory in the 7th century that still stands today, Wang Zhenyi, who brought heliocentrism to China, Margaret Huggins, who perfected the techniques that allowed us to photograph stellar spectra and thereby completely changed the direction of modern astronomy, and Hisako Koyama, whose multi-decade study of the sun's surface is as impressive a feat of steadfast scientific dedication as it is a rigorous and valuable treasure trove of solar data.
A History of Women in Astronomy and Space Exploration is not only a book, however, of those who study space, but of those who have ventured into it, from the fabled Mercury 13, whose attempt to join the American space program was ultimately foiled by betrayal from within, to mythical figures like Kathryn Sullivan and Sally Ride, who were not only pioneering space explorers, but scientific researchers and engineers in their own rights, aided in their work by scientists like Mamta Patel Nagaraja, who studied the effects of space upon the human body, and computer programmers like Marianne Dyson, whose simulations prepared astronauts for every possible catastrophe that can occur in space.
Told through over 130 stories spanning four thousand years of humanity's attempt to understand its place in the cosmos, A History of Women in Astronomy and Space Exploration brings us at last the full tale of women's evolution from instrument makers and calculators to the theorists, administrators, and explorers who have, while receiving astonishingly little in return, given us, quite literally, the universe.
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