Education and Early Career
Despite some early discouragement in the sciences and mathematics at an early age, Thomas would go on to attend and excel at Morgan State University, where she was one of two women majoring in physics. Her first job out of university was as a data analyst at NASA. She developed real-time computer data systems to support satellite operations control centers and oversaw the creation of the Landsat program, of which Thomas would become the resounding international expert in Landsat products.
In 1974 Valerie headed a team of approximately 50 people for the Large Area Crop Inventory Experiment (LACIE), demonstrating the possibility of using space technology to automate wheat yield predictions on a worldwide basis.
Illusion Transmitter Patent
In 1977, Thomas would begin her research for an illusion transmitter after being inspired by an illusion, created by light bulbs and concave mirrors. Similar to the exhibit, This involved creating an experiment, Thomas observed how the position of a concave mirror would affect the real object that it reflected. In 1980, she obtained the patent for the illusion transmitter, a device that NASA continues to use today.
Career and Awards
Thomas continued to work for NASA until her retirement in 1995. During that time, she held a number of positions, including Associate Chief of NASA’s Space Science Data Operations Office, manager of the NASA Automated Systems Incident Response Capability and as Chair of the Space Science Data Operations Office Education Committee.
Thomas received a number of NASA awards including the Goddard Space Flight Center Award of Merit and the NASA Equal Opportunity Medal. She mentored young students as well through the National Technical Association and Science Mathematics Aerospace Research and Technology, Inc..