POWERING CHANGE: WOMEN IN INNOVATION & CREATIVITY

jeanne l. crews (b. 1939), space bumper, 1991

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With a father in the Air Force, it’s not surprising that Jeanne Lee Crews showed an early interest in astronomy. The stars were a fascination, leading to an aspiration to be an astronomer.

However, her ambitions changed when she watched Soviet Union’s Sputnik I launch in 1957, ushering in a new era of scientific developments and fuelling Jeanne’s desire to now become an astronaut.

To pursue her dream, Jeanne studied aerospace engineering, leading to a career at NASA where she became one of the first women engineers there – although according to Jeanne “they didn’t know what to do with me”.

As well as significant scientific advancements, the space race also generated huge volumes of man-made debris, a constant threat to spacecraft. There wasn’t much shielding on spacecraft and Jeanne decided that was her calling.

Her first patent – classified at the time – was the multi-shock shield; a layer shield designed to absorb particles and protect spacecraft. In the 1980s, still concerned with space debris, Jeanne developed a fabric-based material that was as light as aluminium but much stronger – the Space Bumper. This is still in use today on the International Space Station.

Since the launch of Sputnik in 1957, there are now thousands of satellites orbiting Earth, with thousands more planned. It is little surprise that Jeanne is now focused on an extra-terrestrial garbage collector, designed to destroy much of the large amounts of man-made debris circling the earth.

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