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Dilhan Eryurt: First Turk to work on Apollo mission

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Jul 21, 2020 - 09:40 AM

ANKARA (AA) – Turkey on Monday remembered Dilhan Eryurt, the first Turkish woman to work for US space agency NASA, and an astrophysicist honored for helping humans set foot on the moon.

Born on Nov. 29, 1926 in Izmir, on the Turkish Aegean, Eryurt took an early interest in mathematics, and at Istanbul University studied both math and astronomy.

After graduating from the university in 1946, Eryurt worked as an honorary assistant for two years and then was assigned to establish an Astronomy Department at Ankara University in the Turkish capital. After graduate studies at the University of Michigan in the US, in 1953 she completed her doctorate at the Ankara University Astrophysics Department, where she became associate professor.

In 1959, Eryurt went to Canada for two years with a scholarship from the International Atomic Energy Agency. She then went to the US and worked for the Soroptimist Federation of America at Indiana University, and on the identification of stellar models at the university’s Goethe Link Observatory. After this experience, Eryurt worked at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. She collaborated with Alastair G. W. Cameron on research on solar evolution.

For 1961 to 1973, she was the first Turkish women to work at NASA and the only woman astronomer working there during that period.

At the Goddard Institute, research by Eryurt found that the sun was actually much brighter and warmer in the past before cooling to its current level.

In 1969 she was awarded the Apollo Achievement Award for her work contributing to the Apollo 11 mission’s first moon landing and subsequent lunar visits by providing NASA engineers with crucial information for modeling the solar impact on the lunar environment.

After completing a two-year research study at the Goddard Institute, Eryurt continued to work at there as a senior researcher. The institute sent her to the University of California to work on a study on the formation and development of main sequence stars.

In 1968, in Turkey, she organized the first National Astronomy Congress with the support of the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK).

In 1973, she returned to Middle East Technical University in Ankara and founded the Astrophysics Branch of the Physics Department. In 1977, she was awarded the TUBITAK Science Award. In 1988, she served as chair of the Physics Department for six months, and then became dean of the Faculty of Science and Letters for five years.

Eryurt retired in 1993 after a distinguished and dedicated career in astrophysics.

On Sept. 13, 2012, Eryurt passed away at age 86 due to a heart attack.

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