Monday, September 23, 2013

More Canadian Women Flying High in Space Science and Engineering

Kim Binsted, all suited up for her role as chief scientist for the 2007 - 2008 Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station (FMARS) long duration Mars exploration analogue mission on Devon Island. Photo c/o Hawaii Public Radio.

          by Sarah Manea

Being backstage in the space industry can be just as challenging and satisfying as being an astronaut visible on the main stage.

With that in mind, here are five more Canadian scientists and engineers who have broken past the curtains and are running their own show:
  • Very few people outside (or even inside) the entertainment industry are able to generate humour on cue, except perhaps for Dr. Kim Binsted, who once wrote a software program (a "Joke Analysis and Production Engine") to generate automated puns and riddles ("What do you call a spicy missile? A hot shot!") and then turned the concept into a new branch of linguistics. Dr. Binsted is a member of the faculty of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of Hawaii, where she does research on artificial intelligence, human-computer interfaces, and human factors for space exploration, while also working towards a M.Sc in planetary geology. Dr. Binsted was the chief scientist for the 2007 Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station (FMARS) mission, and is now working on the Hawaii Space Exploration Analogue and Simulation (HI-SEAS) project, studying food preparation methods to aid in long-term space travel and exploration.
Catherine Louise Johnson. Photo c/o Planetary Science Institute.
  • Another one of the many women deserving acknowledgement for their efforts in Canadian space sciences and engineering is Catherine Louise Johnson, a professor of Planetary Geophysics at the University of British Columbia. She is a member of the MErcury Surface, Space ENvirontment, GEochemistry, and Ranging mission (MESSENGER), which completed flybys of Earth, Venus, and three flybys of Mercury, which had never been done before. Lunar geophysics and long-term geomagnetic field behavior are also areas in which Professor Johnson excels and she is currently working to solve the riddle of the length of time in which Mars could have supported an atmosphere. 
  • Oddly enough, Darlene Lim, is an expert in limnology (the study of inland, fresh water bodies). Born in Kingston, ON but raised in Edmonton, she's also a respected geobiologist at the NASA Ames Research Center, who has conducted numerous experiments in the northern Arctic, the southern Antarctic, and central America. Since 1999, she has participated in the NASA/SETI Haughton Mars Project, taken part in the 2000 - 2001 FMARS long duration Mars exploration analogue mission on Devon Island and currently sits on the steering committee of the Mars Society, which administers FMARS. Dr. Lim is responsible for the co-establishment of the Pavilion Lake Research Project, aiming to determine the origin of freshwater micro biota and attain a greater understanding of these oldest Earth life forms.

Margarita Marinova prepares for action aboard the DeepWorker 6, a one man submersible used by the Pavilion Lake Research Project. Photo c/o Ben Cowie/ Pavilian Lake Research Project.
  • From testing spacesuits in Antarctica to piloting a one person submersible, Dr. Margarita “Mars” Marinova has a very well rounded resume relating to the study extreme environments. She received a bachelor’s degree in Aeronautics and Astronautics, and then continued on to attain a M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Planetary Sciences at Caltech. Her work in Munich, Germany, on rocket propulsion engines, and the limits of habitability for Earth life have contributed to a marriage between nature and technology, which Dr. Marinova uses to research the possibility of life on Mars and beyond.
  • From a very early age, Dr. Kim Tait knew she had an interest in rocks and minerals. This passion has driven her to pursue geology and geoscience and she is currently working as a curator of mineralogy at the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) with a cross-appointment as Assistant Professor of Geology at the University of Toronto. She's even co-written a paper for the scientific journal Nature, which sheds new light on the age and composition of 200 million year old crystals agreed to have come from lava flows on Mars and suggests that many parts of the Martian surface are much younger than originally thought. “We have learned something very important about the application of geochronology and about the Red Planet itself,” according to Tait.
Kim  Tait, climbing a mountain during a recent trip to the Yukon. Photo c/o the ROM Research Colloquium.
Sarah Manea
Sarah Manea is an aspiring astrophysicist, currently completing a specialist in physics and astronomy at the University of Toronto.

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