Sara Russell holds meteorite

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7 inspiring stories from our Women in Science: Space Tour

Our new, free Women in Science: Space Tour explores the lives of women who've contributed to the study of space. 

Learn about female scientists, past and present, who aimed for the stars, choosing to dedicate their lives to planetary science. Our tour is always evolving, but these are some of the women whose extraordinary lives and research we shine a light on in the tour. 

1) Caroline Herschel

Living to the grand old age of 97 at a time when most died at 35, Caroline Herschel was a German astronomer. She worked alongside with her brother William Herschel and discovered several comets throughout her career, including comet 35P/Herschel-Rigollet, which is named after her. In 1787, she became the first female scientist to receive a salary and was also the first woman in England to ever hold a government position. Her findings were widely published, including in the Royal Society's Philosophical Transactions. 

2) Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson always loved to count. She would count everything, from the steps to the road to the number of dishes she washed. This affinity for numbers led Katherine to break the barriers of gender and race, becoming one of the first African American women to work at NASA as a scientist. Like Caroline Herschel, she lived an extraordinarily long life, joining NASA in 1958, retiring in 1986 and living to see 101. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by Barack Obama in 2015 and a NASA Lifetime Achievement Award in 2016. 

3) Monica Grady

During her time with us as our Curator of Meteorites, Professor Monica Grady was thrilled to have her pick of any meteorite she wanted. Monica's research focuses on the origins of life on Earth, and she even has an asteroid named after her, the Monicagrady. Today she teaches Planetary and Space Science at the Open University and is passionate about public engagement and inspiring young women to pursue STEM subjects.

4) Sara Russell

Growing up during the era of the Apollo missions, Professor Sara Russell has always been fascinated with space. Currently working as our Senior Research Lead in Earth Sciences, her research inspires us to look beyond Earth, to the Moon and meteorites, in order to better understand the planet that we call home. Sara uses the Museum's meteorite collection to investigate topics including the origin of water in the solar system and geological processes in asteroids.

5) Dr Ursula Marvin

After being told by her lecturer that she'd be better off in the kitchen, Ursula Marvin became an award-winning geologist. She won the Women in Science and Engineering Lifetime Achievement Award and the Asteroid (4309) Marvin is named in her honour. During her extraordinary career, Ursula also became one of the first women to venture to Antarctica in search of meteorites. 

6) Dr Natasha Almeida

When she was a child Natasha's mother always told her that nothing was out of her reach, so she set her sights on outer space. Now our Curator of Meteorites, Natasha is busy working with extraterrestrial materials such as meteorites and Moon rocks, including samples collected on the NASA Apollo mission. By studying these, she aims to provide new insights into the processes of the early solar system. Alongside her work as a curator, Natasha is a wonderful science communicator who's passionate about bringing space closer to people.

7) Prof Caroline Smith

Now airport security have seen a lot of things, but it must have been quite the sight to see Caroline Smith carrying a Tissint meteorite from Mars in her hand luggage. Her passion for geology started as a young child exploring Montana, but even back then Caroline had her head turned to the skies. Caroline studied geology and before completing a PhD in planetary sciences. Caroline initially wanted to be an aeronautical engineer but fell in love with geology at A-level. It was a project on impact craters in the solar system during her degree that inspired her to take the path towards planetary science. Currently Head of our Earth Sciences Collections, Caroline works with international space agency partners helping them to plan for future solar system sample return missions.