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(C’mon, Hit Us With Your Comments! — Yvonne, a pioneer of today’s GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) technology, came up with the propulsion system that helps keep communication satellites in a fixed geosynchronous orbit. Tell us what you think!)
When Yvonne Brill accepted the prestigious National Medal of Technology and Innovation award in 2011 from President Obama, it helped to further cement her place in science history as a pioneer in greatly improving space propulsion technology. Her recent presidential award — among the highest honors bestowed by the United States government on scientists, engineers, and inventors — reflects Yvonne’s remarkable career which began in 1945 as the country’s sole woman scientist then working in rocket propulsion systems.
Why She’s Important: Yvonne is the inventor of the hydrazine resistojet propulsion systems used today in most geosynchronous communication satellites. Because of her invention, many of today’s rockets and commercial communication satellites are working better and more efficiently. For example, her patented hydrazine resistojet propulsion innovation keeps a satellite in a fixed geosynchronous orbit longer than other systems and with a larger payload. This advancement has saved commercial satellite owners like RCA, GE and Lockheed Martin millions of dollars. Under her management, the Navy’s NOVA satellites were able to make precise geolocation data available in real time to users of the Navy’s Navigational Satellite System until the Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) system supplanted it.
Other Achievements: Yvonne, a native of Manitoba, Canada, also worked on the innovative propulsion system for the Atmosphere Explorer satellite, which in 1973 allowed scientists to gather extensive data on the Earth’s thermosphere for the first time. In addition to her recent Presidential award, she is a 2009 inductee into the New Jersey Inventors Hall of Fame inductee (the first woman so honored), a recipient of NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a recipient of the Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award, and elected to the Women in Technology International Hall of Fame.
Education: She holds a Bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of Manitoba (Canada) and a Master’s in chemistry from the University of Southern California.
Current Activities: She now serves as a consultant in satellite technology and space propulsion systems, in addition to working to increase the number of women in science.
In Her Own Words: Commenting on the era in which she entered the field of space propulsion systems in 1945: “It was an exciting time. It was the birth of aerospace.”Nobody had the right degrees back then, so it didn’t matter. I didn’t have engineering, but the engineers didn’t have the chemistry and math [like I did]. We all learned together.”
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