France A. Córdova, the director of the National Science Foundation of the United States, former NASA Chief Scientist, and former Chancellor of the University of California, Riverside, had to petition to get into her high school physics class because she was a woman.

“I think they resented that we were taking the space of boys in the classroom,” she said of the Catholic nuns who ran the school. “In compensation, an equal number of boys were allowed to take the art class.”

When she got to Stanford, the expectations were that she study humanities, and she obliged by earning a degree in English. But, driven by a fascination she’d had since early childhood, and by the excitement of the burgeoning space program, she wound her way back to science…

In the face of such challenges, what inspired Córdova’s dedication to becoming an astrophysicist? In this animation from Colin Hesterly and Not to Scale for Nautilus’ Spark of Science series, we get to hear about marshmallows falling on neutron stars, and the paths and trails that Córdova blazed along the way.

Follow this with Dr. Mae Jemison, NASA Astronaut: I Wanted To Go Into Space, Celebrating Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, and The Dreams of an Astronaut – with Helen Sharman.

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