Valerie L. Thomas Retires

Volume 11, Number 3, September 1995
By James L. Green
The associate chief of the Space Science Data Operations Office (SSDOO), Valerie L. Thomas, retired from NASA at the end of August 1995. Valerie began working at NASA/GSFC in 1964. Before her retirement she managed the NASA Automated Systems Incident Response Capability (NASIRC) and chaired the SSDOO Education Committee.


Valerie L. Thomas retired from NASA and as SSDOO associate chief at the end of August 1995.

All during her NASA career Valerie thrived on projects that have offered her a challenge. She developed real-time computer data systems to support satellite operations control centers (1964-1970). From 1970-1981 she managed the development of Landsat image processing data systems (for three Landsat satellites), becoming known internationally as an expert contact for Landsat data products. In 1974 Valerie headed a team of approximately 50 people for the Large Area Crop Inventory Experiment (LACIE), a joint effort with NASA's Johnson Space Center, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. LACIE demonstrated the feasibility of using space technology to automate the process of predicting wheat yield on a worldwide basis. GSFC's part in LACIE was accomplished with a minimum amount of time and money and a maximum amount of technical challenges. LACIE was an overwhelming success.

After working on LACIE Valerie spent a year from 1975-1976 working at NASA Headquarters as the assistant program manager for Landsat/Nimbus before returning to GSFC. She then served as the operations manager for the early access system (nicknamed Scrounge) for Landsat-D's then new Thematic Mapper sensor. Valerie was also the technical officer for a $42 million multi-year technical support contract and deputy project manager for the Pilot Land Data System during the early requirements definition phase.

When she joined NSSDC in 1985, she was the NSSDC Computer Facility manager responsible for a major consolidation and reconfiguration of two previously independent computer facilities and infused it with new technology. She then served as the Space Physics Analysis Network (SPAN) project manager from 1986-1990 during a period when SPAN underwent a major reconfiguration and grew from a scientific network with about 100 computer nodes to one directly connecting about 2,700 computer nodes worldwide. In 1990 SPAN became a major part of NASA's science networking and today's Internet.

Because of her unique career and commitment to giving something back to the community, Valerie has spent a lot of her time over the years speaking to groups of students from elementary school through college-/university-age and adult groups. As an exceptional role model for potential young black engineers and scientists, she made literally hundreds of visits to schools and national meetings over the years. She has served as a mentor for a countless number of students working at GSFC during the summer in addition to serving as a science fair judge, working with organizations such as the National Technical Association (NTA) and Women in Science and Engineering (WISE). These latter programs encourage minority and female students to pursue science and technology careers. Valerie has received numerous NASA awards, including the GSFC Award of Merit, the highest award given by GSFC, and the NASA Equal Opportunity Medal. We will all miss her!

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Author:Miranda Beall
Curators: Erin Gardner and Miranda Beall
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Last Revised: 04 Dec 1996 [EDG]