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Valerie Thomas worked as a mathematical data analyst for NASA after receiving a degree in physics from Morgan State University. She later served as project manager for the development of NASA’s image-processing system on “Landsat,” the first satellite to send images from outer space.
Thomas was inspired by a scientific exhibit she attended in 1976 and began experimenting on an illusion transmitter in 1977. In 1980, she received a patent for her illusion transmitter, which uses a concave mirror on the transmitting end as well as on the receiving end to produce optical illusion images. NASA uses the technology today, and scientists are currently working on ways to incorporate it into tools for surgeons to look inside the human body, and possibly for television sets and video screens one day.
Valerie Thomas continued to work for NASA until her retirement in 1995, serving in such positions as Space Physics Analysis Network (SPAN) project manager and associate chief of the Space Science Data Operations Office.