Virginia Norwood invented the multispectral scanner that allows us to take detailed images of Earth from orbit. An integral part of the Landsat 1 satellite, the technology paved the way for the satellite scanners providing imagery of Earth to this day. She is known as the “Mother of Landsat” thanks to her breakthrough.
Virginia Norwood’s legacy
Virginia Norwood was fascinated by numbers from an early age and encouraged by parents who shared a similar aptitude for mathematics. Her high school guidance counselor nudged her towards becoming a librarian, but Norwood chose to follow her interest in science. She attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1944, earning a degree in mathematical physics.
Her technological breakthroughs began soon thereafter. At 22, she patented a radar reflector that was able to isolate previously untraceable high-altitude winds. By the 1960s, she was part of the team that designed a microwave transmitter used to get clear images of the moon’s surface.
Her most notable creation is the multispectral scanner for Landsat 1, a satellite designed to record detailed data of Earth’s resources. The technology yielded information that led to a better understanding geology and mineral resources, pollution, forestry, and more. Norwood earned the 1979 William T. Pecora Award for her invention, which helped pave the way for countless more advances in satellite imaging technology.
“You sit and think about a problem, and the solutions come to you after a while.” —from a 2021 interview with MIT Technology review
Tributes to Virginia Norwood
Full obituary: The Washington Post