Dr. Dilhan Eryurt was a Turkish astrophysicist and NASA scientist who played a crucial role in the Apollo 11 mission. She is being celebrated in Google Doodle on July 20, 2020, the 51st anniversary of the moon landing.
On July 20, 1969, Apollo 11 became the first spacecraft that successfully landed humans on the moon. Neil Armstrong, one of the two astronauts who set foot on the moon, famously said, “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind,” according to NASA.
Behind this achievement were people who made countless efforts but were less known than Armstrong, including Eryurt. According to Newsweek, her discovery about the sun’s effects on the lunar landscape played a significant role in the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Eryurt is being celebrated in Google Doodle with an illustration showing her looking at the stars, planets, and constellations. Above the rocket in the letter “G” is a constellation in the shape of the square root, which Newsweek said is a reference to her early interest in math.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Eryurt Was Born in Turkey & Spent Her Childhood in Istanbul & Ankara
Eryurt was born in Izmir in western Turkey, on November 29, 1926, according to the Mirror. Her father, Abidin Ege, was a Minister of Parliament in the Grand National Assembly of Turkey, Observer said. Her family moved to Istanbul and later settled down in Ankara.
While studying at Ankara Girls’ High School, she developed an interest in mathematics. She attended Istanbul University and continued to pursue mathematics, but also found a passion in astronomy, the Mirror reported.
She graduated with a degree in mathematics and astrophysics from Istanbul University in 1946, and worked at Tevfik Oktay Kabakçıoğlu and later the newly launched astronomy department at Ankara University, according to the Mirror.
In 1959, Eryurt moved abroad and didn’t return and settle down in Turkey until 14 years later, Newsweek reported.
2. Eryurt Worked for NASA’s Goddard Institute for 12 Years & Was at One Time the Only Woman at the Institute
Eryurt’s distinguished career abroad started when she moved to Canada to work for the International Atomic Energy Agency in 1959, according to the Independent.
She then relocated to the U.S. and landed in a job at the Soroptimist Federation of America at Indiana University, Observer reported. She was also with the Goethe Link Observatory, where she worked to identify stellar models. And it was this job that eventually led her to NASA.
She moved to Washington D.C. and started to work for NASA in 1961, and spent 12 years at NASA’s Goddard Institute, Newsweek reported. She worked alongside Alastair G. W. Cameron, who was known for his theory about the creation of the Moon, according to the New York Times.
Eryurt was the only woman at the Goddard Institute at that time, according to Newsweek and Observer. Women scientists working at NASA’s other departments at the same time included Katherine Johnson, who calculated the trajectory for Apollo 11’s flight to the moon, according to Insider.
3. Eryurt Discovered the Sun Was Cooling
Eryurt’s contributions were crucial to NASA’s space missions. According to the Independent, she worked on the evolution of stars and discovered that the sun was actually cooling and losing brightness.
With this discovery, she was able to provide NASA engineers with data for modeling how the sun affected the lunar environment, according to Observer. Her significant research helped NASA develop technology that supported space missions in the 1960s and the 1970s, including the Apollo 11 moon landing.
Eryurt was awarded the Apollo Achievement Award for her contribution in 1969, according to Newsweek.
4. Eryurt Returned to Turkey & Contributed to Astrophysics There
After more than a decade in North America, Eryurt returned to her home country in 1973, Newsweek reported. She established the Department of Astrophysics at Middle Eastern Technical University, a public university in Ankara.
She later oversaw the physics department in the faculty of science-literature, and took on the role of the dean of the faculty for five years, according to Newsweek. She was awarded Turkey’s Tübitak Science Award in 1977 for her contribution to her homeland, the Sun reported.
5. Women Scientists Worked at NASA in the 1960s & the 1970s Despite Discrimination
When she entered NASA in 1961, Eryurt was the only female at the Goddard Institute. Around the same time, there were a number of women working at NASA’s different research centers.
Apart from Katherine Johnson, some other prominent names are Marry Jackson, NASA’s first black female engineer; Nancy Roman, known as the “Mother of Hubble” for her work; and Dorothy Vaughan, a mathematician, and NASA’s first African-American manager, according to Insider.
Women have played a crucial role in NASA‘s history. But in the early years of NASA, they still experienced discrimination and sexism, according to Space. In an interview for the book Black Women Scientists in the United States, Johnson said that women were not allowed to put their names on the reports in the early days of NASA.
Today, women make up only around 34% of the NASA workforce, according to its survey. However, the National Women’s History Museum pointed out that there was already an increase in female employees compared to the last few decades at NASA.