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Diversity in STEM

Acknowledging Out-of-This-World Inductees During Global Astronomy Month

The month of April is Global Astronomy Month! Recognized by Astronomers Without Borders, a U.S.-based club that connects sky watchers around the planet, this annual monthlong celebration encourages people worldwide to appreciate and learn about the sun, moon, stars, space and the physical universe as a whole.

This is also the perfect time to explore some revolutionary inventors who made remarkable contributions to the field of astronomy, like several National Inventors Hall of Fame® Inductees. Check out their inspiring contributions below!


George Edward Alcorn

Inductee George Alcorn invented the X-ray spectrometer. A pioneering physicist and engineer known for his aerospace and semiconductor inventions, he patented his X-ray spectrometer during his career at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Used with telescopes and other satellites, this invention allows for the detection of radio signatures at a more distant and accurate rate than previously possible, and provides highly useful data for a wide range of scientific and technical applications. Thanks to Alcorn, we can conduct planetary mapping, search for new planets, create star charts to reveal motions of systems and examine deep-space phenomena.


Yvonne Brill

Inductee Yvonne Brill is known for her innovations in rocket propulsion. She invented the hydrazine resistojet propulsion system, or the electrothermal hydrazine thruster (EHT), which electrically heats rocket fuel. Her contribution is unique because it increases the performance and efficiency of the monopropellant hydrazine system, reducing the propellant weight needed to keep a satellite in orbit. Because Brill’s thruster design system requires less fuel, it has set the industry standard since 1983.


J. Roger P. Angel

Inductee Roger Angel invented lightweight mirrors for astronomical telescopes. These very large primary mirrors are used in many of the world’s leading space observatories. Angel also improved telescopes by including smaller, secondary mirrors made from very thin glass, which allowed them to rapidly bend into different shapes to correct for constantly changing atmospheric blurring. In another technique he developed, light from many distant galaxies is transmitted by optical fibers for simultaneous spectroscopic analysis.


Beatrice Hicks

Inductee Beatrice Hicks invented a gas density sensor. Used in devices that relied on gas-phase materials as insulators or fuels, her sensor activated a switch when the density reached a critical value. This was a vital breakthrough to enabling space travel. In fact, her gas density sensor was used in the ignition system on the Saturn V rockets that launched the Apollo moon missions! Hicks also developed other sensors to monitor pressure, fuel levels and flow rates for liquids and gases, including a sensor that set off an alarm when a rocket, missile or plane exceeded a speed at which the structural components could reliably maintain their integrity.


Grote Reber

Inductee Grote Reber, a pioneering radio astronomer, built the first substantial radio telescope dedicated to astronomy, which allowed for the detection of objects and phenomena not possible with optical astronomy. With his invention, a radio receiver could amplify faint cosmic signals by a factor of several million, making the waves strong enough to be recorded and charted. In 1944, Reber developed a contour radio map of the sky, with brighter areas indicating richer radio sources the brightest being the center of the Milky Way.


George R. Carruthers

Inductee George Carruthers invented the far ultraviolet electrographic camera. This camera uses ultraviolet light to study Earth’s upper atmosphere, stars and gases in interstellar space. It is best known for its use in the Apollo 16 mission to the moon in 1972, examining both Earth’s atmosphere and deep space, offering a global view of our planet. Over 200 pictures and spectra were taken from the Apollo mission, which provided the first images of Earth, its atmosphere, stars, galaxies and interstellar gas from a unique perspective.


Discover More

Explore the inventions and stories of more world-changing Inductees here.

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