The 2017 movie ‘Hidden Figures’ tells the story of the pivotal role that three black women mathematicians played at NASA during the space race of the 1960s. NASA has always been a centre of excellence for women innovation and our list reflects this with the inclusion of both Jeanne Lee Crews (the inventor of the space bumper) and Olga Gonzalez-Sanabria.
Olga was born in Puerto Rico and received a Bachelor of Science from the University of Puerto Rico and a Master of Science from the University of Toledo, both in chemical engineering.
In 1979 she joined NASA, where she has worked for almost 30 years. She is the most senior Hispanic in NASA and currently serves as Director of Engineering at NASA’s Glenn Research Center, Ohio.
Olga is best known for her role in developing long-life nickel hydrogen batteries that help enable the International Space Station (ISS) power system. Since the ISS was launched in November 1988 it has relied on some 33,000 solar cells to generate up to 120 kilowatts of power that supports a permanent crew of six astronauts and enables them to live, work and conduct experiments.
The ISS is 220 miles from Earth and rotates earth every 90 minutes. For a third of this time it has no direct sunlight. Olga’s long-life, high power batteries deliver continuous power to the ISS when sunlight is not accessible.
The ISS has contributed to global water purification programmes, improved eye surgery, pioneered new breast cancer detection technology and enabled the world to better monitor climate change. All of this, in part at least, is thanks to Olga’s invention, keeping the ISS powered.