“NWHM de Pizan Hat Auction: The Eleanor Helin Hat”

By: Laura Spears

When Eleanor Helin began her studies as a scientist, she probably did not imagine that her interest in geology and land formations would lead to a career in space exploration. Her curiosity in the mineral make up or rocks formed on earth led her to study fragments of rock that formed elsewhere in the solar system and fell to earth, also known as meteorites.

Early in her career, Eleanor specialized in minerals and landforms. While at CalTech, she was the in charge of their meteorite collection. She studied their composition, chemistry and formation. Eleanor soon focused her research on the surface of the moon. Specifically, she studied the landforms of the moon and researched how the surface of the moon came to be so pockmarked with craters. She was hired by NASA in the 1960’s because of this specialization. With her research partner, Dr. Bruce Murray, she set up a laboratory at CalTech to further examine the surface of the moon. This would be the first lunar laboratory in the United States. Using telescopes and photographs Eleanor’s laboratory was able to create a more detailed image of the moon’s surface. Her research helped NASA prepare for the first moon landing in 1969.

Eleanor was also the principle investigator for NASA’s Near Earth Asteroid Tracking program. Established in 1995, it was the first autonomous observing program. None of the jet propulsion laboratory’s personnel needed to be present at the observation sight. Eleanor and her team programmed a computer to observe the night sky and then transmit the data to the JPL each morning for review. NEAT’s purpose was to find and track any asteroid that could come close to hitting earth. NEAT discovered 31 near earth asteroids, two comets, and thousands of other unique objects. The program was retired in 2007.

The design of this hat is inspired by Helin’s discoveries, asteroids and comets, which both travel in an orbital pattern around the sun. The unique structure of this hat makes it appear that the bias binding the brim is orbiting the head. The boom in space exploration had a significant influence on 1960’s and 70’s fashions. The French designer, Pierre Cardin is credited with beginning what is now known as the space age fashion trend. Futuristic style clothing, featuring strong geometric shapes and lines became popular. The fashion could be taken to the extreme by incorporating unusual materials, such as plastics, into the design. The popularity of science fiction in television and movies, such as the original Star Trek series, was also an influence on space age fashions.

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