Inventor of the Week Archive
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Method of Obtaining Intensified Image from Developed Photographic Films
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, or NASA,
was in its heyday when the organization established The Marshall
Space Flight Center, named for General George C. Marshall,
in 1960. The Center, based in Huntsville, Alabama, in 1961
sent Alan B. Shepard, the nation’s first official “astronaut”
on a sub-orbital flight and in 1969, helped send man to the
The personnel that have been associated with the Marshall
Center over the last several decades include some of the brightest,
most innovative scientists in the world, including many outstanding
women scientists. Chemist Barbara S. Askins was one of those
Askins began her career as a teacher and became mother to
two children. She waited until after they entered school to
go back to college and complete her B.S. degree in chemistry.
Askins continued with her education, completing her Master’s
degree in chemistry, before she accepted a position as a chemist
for the Marshall Space Flight Center in 1975.
At Marshall, Askins was asked to work on developing ways
to improve the quality of photographic astronomical and geological
images taken by researchers. Up until that time, the images
taken from high above the earth were barely visible, though
they contained a wealth of information.
In 1978, Askins came up with a way of enhancing the images
using radioactive materials. The method she developed used
radiology to help improve the quality of under-exposed and
otherwise useless negatives — after the film was developed.
On July 18, 1978, Askins received U.S. patent No. 4,101,780
for a "Method of Obtaining Intensified Image from Developed
Photographic Films and Plates." She was sole inventor
on the project.
The process Askins developed was immensely successful, and
before long, the technology was adapted for use in other NASA
research as well as outside applications in X-ray technology
and photo restoration. In 1978, the Association for Advancement
of Inventions and Innovations named her the National Inventor
of the Year. She was the first woman to be selected for this
honor with sole title to the patent under consideration.
Askins was among the first American women to make significant
contributions in the field of space exploration, working for
NASA during an exciting time leading up to the launch of the
first Space Shuttle in 1981. She and others at Marshall served
as role models and mentors to the women entering the field
in the 1980s and 1990s. Askins also contributed to several
other important research projects and papers at Marshall during