Celebrating Women Shaping Our Future

March 24, 2022

By Raha Hakimdavar, Ball Aerospace, Director of Space Sciences

Raha Hakimdavar

Women have made incredible contributions to the advancement of science and technology. Yet, for a very long time these contributions were minimized or unrecognized. We are lucky to live in a time when things are vastly different. Although we still have a way to go to achieve equity across sectors and around the world, I notice positive changes. My Ph.D. advisor was one of two female students studying engineering in her class at Oxford. By the time I was studying engineering, women made up about 30% of the students in my class. Today, I see women not just stepping into technical fields but leading in them. That is something to be celebrated and elevated!

I recently had the opportunity to meet a pioneer in space technology. Virginia Norwood, known as the “Mother of Landsat,” is the woman responsible for the first Landsat multispectral scanner (MSS), which launched in 1972. It led to one of NASA’s most successful programs and the beginning of a long legacy of Earth observations. Landsat has fundamentally changed the way we view and manage the most important resources on our planet. Without this legacy, we could not use the vantage point of space to track deforestation and wildfire impacts, or the loss of wetlands and lakes. Without it, we would not have Google Earth! I had the privilege of meeting Norwood, who is now 94 years old, while attending the September 2021 launch of Landsat 9, the latest in the series of satellites that continue to advance the program’s historic data record. Ball Aerospace built the Operational Land Imager 2 (OLI-2) for Landsat 9, as well as developed the cryocooler for the Thermal Infrared Sensor 2 (TIRS-2), another instrument on the spacecraft. A group known as the Ladies of Landsat, a community built around the women involved with Landsat science and engineering, invited Norwood to tell her story of how Landsat came to be. As a Lady of Landsat, I was enthralled by her story of fighting for the MSS to be included in the first Landsat. As a leader at Ball, I was proud of this company’s contributions to that legacy.

Throughout my career, there have been many reasons to feel out of place. My gender represents just one of those things. It’s intimidating to be “the only one” in a professional space, but it is also empowering. If everyone brought the same set of skills and perspective, then we would not really advance. For Virginia Norwood, it was the task at hand that propelled her path. As she explained, “I never had doubts about the MSS, because I designed it and knew it would work.” I won’t pretend that I have not faced major crises of confidence due to unconscious and conscious biases in my career. During these times, I have learned to focus on three simple facts: I am there, I have a job to do and I have the power to bring change.

What makes space so exciting to me is that in order to achieve great things, we simply need to have the best, most capable minds. In fact, that is the case in every industry. It is wonderful to celebrate diversity and the legacy of those who fought for it to become normalized. It is up to all of us to push beyond arbitrary boundaries because the world needs our creativity and ingenuity.