March Women’s History & Black History Spotlight: Dr. Valerie Thomas

Lily Haseltine, News Editor

One of the most influential women in NASA, Valerie Thomas’ impacts on the world of science and aerospace engineering can be seen from the space field, to the medical field.

Born in Baltimore, Maryland on February 1, 1943, Thomas grew up in the suburban Cherry Hill Community with her mother and father. Cherry Hill is outside of Baltimore, Maryland, founded as a planned community for African Americans nearly 60 years ago. Residents were important in its creation in the 40’s, as they built a church congregation and recreational teams.

As a young child, Thomas expressed her interest in the sciences. She read  ‘The Boys First Book of Radio and Electronics’ at age 8. Thomas says that this book sparked her continued interest in science as she got older. However, her parents were not encouraging towards her interest in the science field.

Thomas attended the magnet, all-girl Western High School. She excelled in her studies and graduated in 1960. Western High School was integrated in 1954, and was under police protection. 

Valerie Thomas attended Morgan State University, where she continued to study Physics. She excelled in her STEM course and graduated in 1964 with highest honors and a degree in physics.

Hired straight out of college, Thomas began working for NASA as a data analyst in 1964. From 1964-1970, Thomas created real-time computer data systems. This new technology was used to support the satellite operations control centers at NASA. Valerie Thomas oversaw the making of the Landsat Program. The Landsat program were satellites that documented land change on earth as a result of factors such as climate change and urbanization. From 1986 to 1990, she was project manager for SPAN (Space Physics Analysis Network), which later became an important factor for today’s internet.

Currently retired, Thomas resides in Prince George’s County in Maryland. She continues to work with organizations such as Science, Mathematics, Aerospace, Research, and Technology, Inc. and SHADES OF BLUE.

Arguably one of the most influential of Thomas’ creations is the illusion transmitter. After attending a seminar and viewing an exhibit on illusions in 1976, Thomas became interested with the concepts displayed. After extensive research, she used her findings to create the illusion transmitter which she patented in 1980. This device is used by NASA to send pictures of space to earth. Not only is this device used by NASA, but the illusion transmitter is used in the medical field for assistance with surgeries.

Valerie Thomas has inspired girls around the world as a result of her achievements and the barriers she broke and continues to break in her work today.