For release: 08/19/03
Release #: N03-009
It's no longer 'initials only' for NASA solar physicist Dr. Mona Hagyard of the National Space Science and Technology Center
When launching her career in the 1960s, NASA scientist Dr. Mona Hagyard used her initials only, avoiding the use of her first name to delay the discovery of her gender. She says that's a big contrast to today's workforce, with women not only in technical positions, but in leadership roles. Today, Hagyard is the director of the Solar Vector Magnetograph, a solar observatory at the Marshall Center.
Photo: Dr. Mona Hagyard, far right, with fellow scientists at the Solar Vector Magnetograph (NASA/MSFC/Doug Stoffer)
When launching her career in the 1960s, NASA scientist Dr. Mona Hagyard avoided using something today's professional woman might take for granted her first name.
"I only used my initials," said Hagyard, explaining that companies in that era weren't always receptive to hiring scientists who happened to be women. So delaying the discovery of her gender seemed the best way to secure a job interview. That's a big contrast she said, to today's workforce, with women not only in technical positions, but in leadership roles.
Fortunately for Hagyard's career, the federal government didn't shy away from hiring women scientists and engineers. So, in 1967, Hagyard joined NASA, where women and their talents and contributions were welcomed, and launched her career as a solar physicist.
Today, Hagyard is the director of the Solar Vector Magnetograph Facility, a solar observatory at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. A ground-based instrument more than twice Hagyard's height, the telescope monitors the Sun's active areas, measuring the amount of magnetic energy stored in select solar regions.
Based at the National Space Science and Technology Center in Huntsville, Hagyard leads the observatory's development, operation and research. "Every 11 years, my job becomes especially interesting," she said, "because the Sun's activity peaks on an 11-year cycle."
At its peak, or solar maximum, the Sun becomes a hotbed of activity, complete with massive explosions called coronal mass ejections. Blasting through the Sun's outer atmosphere, they plow toward Earth at thousands of miles per second, posing a potential danger to communication satellites, astronauts on space walks, and electric power systems on the ground.
Efforts like Hagyard's to monitor and better understand the Sun's magnetic regions have led to better prediction of these explosions, giving people on Earth more time to place satellites in a safe configuration, plan astronaut activity, and implement contingency plans to deal with power outages.
In her career spanning more than 30 years, Hagyard has experienced three solar maximums, along with other scientific events and achievements she feels fortunate to have witnessed firsthand. "I joined NASA just before the Apollo Moon landing," she said. "It was an exciting time for the space program."
Today, just months from retirement, Hagyard is among the ever-shrinking number of active scientists who have supported solar experiments associated with the Apollo program in the 1960s and 1970s, Skylab in the 1970s, and the Space Shuttle beginning in the 1980s.
Inspired by her late godfather, a bacteriologist, to pursue a career in science, Hagyard earned three degrees in physics from the University of Kentucky in Lexington, a bachelor's in 1956, a master's in 1961 and a doctorate in 1967 -- making her one of the first women to earn a doctorate in physics from that institution.
She would advise the next generation of scientists to learn the basic principles of their chosen field and then find the career opportunity that best suits them. "Find what you think is interesting and exciting, and take some risks," she said.
After retirement, Hagyard plans to pursue activities closer to Earth, including taking a walking tour of Great Britain, visiting major opera houses around the world and becoming more active in women's organizations.
The NSSTC is a cooperative venture of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, Alabama A & M University, Auburn University, Tuskegee University, The University of Alabama, The University of Alabama at Birmingham, The University of Alabama in Huntsville, and The University of South Alabama.
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