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Female Aerospace Pioneers

 “Flying is the best possible thing for women.” — Baroness Raymonde de la Roche

Female Aerospace Pioneers

Although men were the first aviators, women quickly took to the air as well.  Most early flight schools did not accept female students, but determined women learned from friends or paid for private lessons. Since the early 19th century, women have been making strides in the field of aviation. From flying the first airplanes to walking in space, women have been accomplishing aviation and aerospace milestones for more than 100 years. Let’s take a look at the lives of seven female aersopace pioneers:

Baroness Raymonde de la Roche

The first woman pilot, Baroness Raymonde de la Roche, was licensed in 1910 in France.  She was taught by her friend, Charles Voisin.  In 1919 this talented engineer and pilot set a women’s altitude record by flying at a height of 4,785 meters.  In the summer of that year she decided to become the first female test pilot.  The new aircraft went into a dive and crashed, killing her and the pilot.

Baroness Raymonde de la Roche

The Baroness, always comfortable behind the wheel of her Voisin, c1909

Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman

In 1921 Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman, a Texan, became the first civilian (non-military) licensed African-American pilot in the world.  Elizabeth “Bessie” ColemanShe went to France to learn to fly after her brothers, who served in World War II, told her French women were allowed to fly. When she returned to the United States she did air shows: barnstorming, parachute jumping, and giving demonstrations. Coleman would only perform if the audience was not segregated and all people got to enter the show through the same gate.  This courageous and adventurous woman fell from the open cockpit of a plane during a test flight which ended her life on April 30, 1926.  She was enshrined in the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 2006.

Madame Therese Peltier

Born in France in 1873, Madame Peltier was a well-known sculptor in Paris. She became interested in aviation when her friend and fellow sculptor, Leon Delagrange, took an interest in flying. Madame Therese PeltierShe was Delagrange’s constant passenger, observing how his airplane works and studying the mechanics of aviation. She began to take lessons from Delagrange, and in 1908, she completed her first solo flight. With this flight, Peltier became the first woman to pilot a heavier-than-air craft. Despite her successful flight, Peltier never applied for her pilot’s license. In 1910, Delagrange died in an airplane crash in Bordeaux, and Peltier lost interest in aviation. In a time when most women were thought unable to drive a car – much less pilot an airplane – Peltier’s accomplishments as an aviator are truly remarkable.

Amelia Earhart

Amelia EarhartAmelia Earhart was born in 1897 in Kansas and fell in love with airplanes while attending an air show in Toronto as a teenager. As a college student, Earhart convinced her father to pay for flying lessons. After just one ten-minute lesson, Earhart was hooked and worked a variety of jobs, including photographer, truck driver and stenographer, to raise the money needed for her remaining lessons. In 1923, Earhart became the 16th woman to earn a pilot’s license. In 1932, after years of flying with male pilots, Earhart wanted to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in a solo flight. She set off from Newfoundland and landed in a pasture at Culmore in Northern Ireland. She had hoped to make it to Paris, but strong winds shortened her journey. Nevertheless, with this flight, Earhart became the first female pilot to complete a solo transatlantic flight.

Valentina Tereshkova

Valentina Tereshkova is a former Soviet cosmonaut who became the first woman in space. Her career, though, started out on a different path. As a young girl, Tereshkova was interested in parachuting and later took skydiving lessons. She completed her first jump at the age of 22. At the time, she was an assembly line worker with barely a high school education.

Valentina Tereshkova

Valentina Tereshkova

In 1961, the Soviet Union wanted to put a woman in space and began a search for the country’s first female cosmonaut. Tereshkova applied and was selected out of more than 400 candidates, based largely on her expertise as a parachutist and skydiver.

Valentina Tereshkova

Valentina Tereshkova

In 1963, at the age of 26, Tereshkova boarded the Vostok 6 and began her three-day space journey, orbiting the earth 48 times. After her flight, Tereshkova studied at the Zhukovsky Air Force Academy and earned a doctorate in engineering.

Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock

In 1964 Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock became the first woman to fly solo around the world.  Her flight took 29 days and was completed April 17, 1964.  According to her obituary, Mock thought her flight was no big deal.  She said she did it mostly “to have fun.”  Although she enjoyed flying, she obviously took it seriously, too–she did, after all, live to the age of 88.  When she did her around-the-world flight, she was a full-time mother of three children and had been a licensed pilot for only seven years.  During her famous flight she once had to land in Saudi Arabia.  After she exited the plane, the crowd waited for a man (the pilot) to come out, too.  When no man emerged, they realized she was the pilot and many cheered.  Her plane, the Spirit of Columbus, is in a museum in Chantilly, Virginia.

Geraldine “Jerrie” Mock

Moments before she took off from the Port of Columbus Airport on her 1964 flight, Mock posed in front of Three-Eight Charlie, also known as the Spirit of Columbus. According to her memoir, Mock wore her “blue, drip-dry outfit” throughout the flight.

Dr. Sally Ride

Dr. Sally Ride, a physicist, became the first American Woman to fly in space.  Her first space shuttle mission took off on June 18, 1983.  She flew a second mission in 1984.  One of her specialties on the mission was to operate the robotic arm used to place satellites in orbit.  She became part of the astronaut Hall of Fame in 2003.  Until she died in 2012, Sally Ride worked hard to encourage young people to study science and math.  She had college degrees in both English and physics, and went on to earn a Ph.D. (the highest degree one can earn in a field) in physics.  Dr. Ride knew how important education is and wanted to help students in any way she could. She often shared her space experiences in schools and in interviews.  Her company, Sally Ride Science, especially encouraged girls to develop their interests in science and technology.

Dr. Sally Ride

Female Aviation Timeline

How much do you know about female aviation pioneers? Here’s a timeline of female aviation and aerospace accomplishments to inspire your future aviator:
1906 – E. Lillian Todd became the first woman to help design and build an aircraft
1908 – Madame Therese Peltier became the first woman to fly an airplane by herself
1910 – Baroness Raymonde de Laroche got the first women’s pilot license
1910 – Bessica Raiche became the first American woman to earn a pilot’s license
1911 – Harriet Quimby was the first American woman fly across the English Channel
1913 – Katherine Stinson was the first American woman to operate a flight school
1921 – Bessie Coleman was the first African American to earn an International Pilot’s License
1928 – Amelia Earhart was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean
1930 – Amy Johnson was the first woman to fly solo from England to Australia
1934 – Jeanette Picard was America’s first female licensed balloon pilot and America’s first woman to enter the stratosphere
1934 – Helen Richey was the first woman to be hired to pilot a U.S. commercial airline
1936 – Jean Batten was the first pilot to fly solo from England to New Zealand
1937 – Sabiha Gokcen of Turkey was the first female pilot to fly combat missions
1938 – Hanna Reitsch was the first woman to fly a helicopter
1938 – Willa Brown was the first African-American woman to earn her pilot’s license and commercial license
1953 – Jacqueline Cochran became the first woman to break the sound barrier
1963 – Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman to fly in space
1964 – Geraldine Mock was the first woman to fly solo around the world
1974 – Barbara Allen Rainey was the first female pilot in the U.S. military
1976 – Emily Howell Warner was the first female to command a major American passenger flight
1980 – Lynn Rippelmeyer was the first woman pilot to fly a Boeing 747
1983 – Sally Ride became the first American woman to go to space
1984 – Svetlana Savitskaya was the first woman to ever perform a space walk
1992 – Dr. Mae Jemison was the first African American woman to go to space
1995 – Martha McSally was the first woman to fly combat missions for the United States
1996 – Shannon Lucid is the American astronaut who has been in space for the longest period of time and the American woman with the most missions to space
1997 – Eileen Collins was the first woman to command a U.S. space shuttle mission
2001 – Polly Vacher became the first woman to fly around the world in a small plane
2001 – Vernice Armour became the first African-American combat pilot
2012 – Liu Yang was the first Chinese woman to launch into space
2012 – Col. Jeannie Flynn Leavitt became the U.S. Air Force’s first female wing commander
If your STEMist (your child!) loves aviation and space, be sure to check out the “Fly With Me” groovy box! Engineering Design Challenge: You are a starry-eyed aerospace engineer and a groovy world traveler. You dream of taking off in the blue, gliding where the air is stratified and floating down to Peru. Using only the materials from your Groovy Lab in a Box, can you design, build, and launch an airplane generating thrust with a propeller which travels fifteen feet? STEMists, get ready to pack up and fly away!

A groovy approach to hands-on Next Generation Science Standards,  project-based learning…Groovy Lab in a Box!

The Evolution of the Telescope

The Evolution of the Telescope

“My parents gave me a small telescope, then I built my own, and one thing led to another. So that’s how I ended up going from being a hobby astronomer to a professional astronomer.” – Dimitar Sasselov, Bulgarian astronomer based in the United States. He is a Professor of Astronomy at Harvard University and director of the Harvard Origins of Life Initiative.

In the beginning, people’s knowledge about the stars was limited by the power of their own eyes. The inventions of lenses, mirrors, and eventually the telescope made it possible to see more things clearly. The history of astronomy is tied to the development of the telescope, since we need to observe things in order to understand them.

Refracting Telescope

In 1608 Hans Lippershey (or Lipperhey), a Dutch eyeglass maker, was the first man to apply for a patent for the telescope. Others also claimed to be the inventor, but the Dutch government accepted his patent as the first.

Hans Lippershey (or Lipperhey)

Hans Lippershey

While the earliest telescopes only magnified things a few times, Galileo Galilei worked hard and was able to eventually make his telescope magnify things till they were 10 times larger. By 1610, Galileo had a telescope that magnified 30 times. He was able to see craters on the moon and even the moons orbiting the planet Jupiter.

Galileo's ink drawings of the moon. Credit: NASA

Galileo’s ink drawings of the moon. Credit: NASA

A 1754 painting by H.J. Detouche shows Galileo Galilei displaying his telescope to Leonardo Donato and the Venetian Senate.

A 1754 painting by H.J. Detouche shows Galileo Galilei displaying his telescope to Leonardo Donato and the Venetian Senate.

Johannes Kepler also improved upon the early refracting telescopes.  Instead of a concave and a convex lens, he tried two convex lenses.  (Concave lenses curve inward, like a bowl, while convex lenses curve out.) The largest refracting telescope ever built had a lens 40 inches wide.  It opened in 1897 at Yerkes Observatory in Williams Bay, Wisconsin.

A 1610 portrait of Johannes Kepler by an unknown artist

A 1610 portrait of Johannes Kepler by an unknown artist

Yerkes Refractor Telescope, 1897

Yerkes Refractor Telescope, 1897

Yerkes Refractor Telescope, 2006

Yerkes Refractor Telescope, 2006

Reflecting Telescope

Sir Isaac Newton studied Kepler’s work and decided it might be a better idea to build a telescope using mirrors instead of lenses. Mirrors reflect light, while lenses allow light to pass through them and bend (refract) the light.  In 1668 he built the first practical reflecting telescope. For many years scientists used both refracting and reflecting telescopes, but the reflector became the favorite of astronomers.

Diagram of Isaac Newton's reflecting telescope, from the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 1672.

Diagram of Isaac Newton’s reflecting telescope, 1672. Image courtesy of the Royal Society of London.

Edwin Hubble

Edwin Hubble at the eyepiece of the 100″ Hooker Reflecting Telescope [Photograph by Margaret Bourke-White/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images]

In the 1920’s most STEMists believed the universe was static (unchanging) in size.  But then came along astronomer Edwin Hubble in 1929 who published his findings that the universe is expanding! He did not directly see the universe expand like a balloon but calculated the velocity of light spectra from far away galaxies.  (Light from a galaxy has specific characteristics, spectrum, based on the make-up or composition of the galaxy.) From these calculations, Edwin Hubble determined that nearly all galaxies are moving away from us, and the farther the galaxies are from us, the faster they are moving … the universe is expanding!

Modern Telescopes

Karl Guthe Jansky detected radio waves in outer space in 1931. This discovery inspired engineers to develop radio telescopes and other types of telescopes for measuring and mapping microwaves, gamma rays, and other electromagnetic radiation. These telescopes helped scientists “see” invisible radiation and use it to detect objects such as pulsars.

Hubble Space Telescope Is The GROOVIEST!

The Hubble Space Telescope was launched on April 24, 1990 with the Space Shuttle Discovery. Since then, it has been in a low orbit around the earth. The Hubble Space Telescope is a reflecting telescope that also has digital cameras and satellite communications so it can send us groovy images. These images are clearer than earthbound astronomers can see because the Hubble is outside earth’s atmosphere and gets a clearer view of distant objects. The Hubble is the only telescope designed to be adjusted and repaired in space by astronauts.

Hubble Telescope

Hubble Space Telescope in a low orbit around the earth.

Groovy Images From The Hubble Space Telescope!

“We are like mayflies, fleeting ephemeral creatures who live out their lives in the course of a single day.” – Carl Sagan

A replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, is planned for launch in 2018. There are always ways to improve the telescope, so we never stop adding to our knowledge of the stars.

Moon Dance” Groovy Lab in a Box

If your STEMist loves telescopes and star stuff, be sure to check out our “Moon Dance” groovy box – explore Earth’s moon, gravity, mass vs. weight, moon phases, tides, light, telescopes and much, much, more.  Join Now! and challenge your STEMists to a monthly Groovy Lab in a Box, full of everything a child needs to learn about and do hands-on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) investigations and engineering design challenges. Our monthly box activates thinking, questioning, inquiring and original creation as we guide children through scientific inquiry and the engineering design process.

A groovy thank you to Oh, Star Stuff for providing some of the groovy Hubble Space Telescope images above.

The Evolution of Hydroponics

The Evolution of Hydroponics

Did you know you can grow plants without soil?

The method is called hydroponic, a Latin word that means working water.  Although historians believe that the ancient Babylonians worked with hydroponics through their hanging gardens, it was John Woodward, in 1699, who became the first documented scientist to successfully grow plants using hydroponics.

John Woodward

John Woodward

John Woodward was born in 1665 in Derbyshire, United Kingdom.  At the age of 16, he became an apprentice to a linen draper in London, and then later he learned about medicine from Dr. Peter Barwick, who was a doctor for King Charles II.   While studying medicine, Woodward found a fascination with fossils that eventually led him to his work with plants.

In 1699, Woodward published his hydroponics experiments with spearmint. He tested different types of soil mixed with the water, and he learned plants with a less-pure water source grew better than plants grown in purely distilled water.  Woodward concluded that certain substances with minerals in the water encouraged plant growth.

Hydroponics in Space

NASA's Vision for Space Exploration project is preparing for a future on the Moon, Mars and other uninhabited planets. Woodward’s research led other scientists to establish that water is absorbed by plant roots that pass through the stem system.  Then the water escapes into the air through the pores of leaves.  Additionally, plant roots get minerals from soil or water, and their leaves draw carbon dioxide from the air while their roots take up oxygen.

Armed with these discoveries, NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration project is preparing for a future on the Moon, Mars and other uninhabited planets. They are learning and perfecting the food-growing method of hydroponics, and are finding great success with vegetables, such as lettuce, onions and radishes. Through this project, scientists are learning how astronauts could grow crops that would provide healthy foods. They are also learning how hydroponics can remove toxic carbon dioxide from the air inside the astronaut’s space vehicle, and create oxygen to help them survive in space.

NASA scientistNASA scientists also are investigating how different amounts of three factors – light, temperature and carbon dioxide – affect plant growth. Another factor is the species and variety of plants.  STEMists becoming experts at hydroponic gardening could make big strides in the science world and may find themselves growing gardens in space someday!

Botany as a Career

STEMists interested in plant life might consider botany as a career.  A botanist studies microorganisms and trees like giant sequoias, algae, fungi, mosses, ferns, conifers and flowering plants. A botanist may also be called a plant biologist, biochemist, biophysicist or microbiologist.


Botanists have many different areas they can focus their studies on. For examples, they might concentrate on studying what pollution does to plant life and work toward protecting the environment. Other botanists might use biotechnology to improve existing plant species, create new plant species or grow plants using a hydroponic farming system.

STEMists who want to become botanists can be on their way to doing research and investigations through the engineering design process found in monthly-themed Groovy Lab in a Box.  Check out the hydroponics box Water Works” for more groovy fun for future botanists!

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