Rocket Women — Pioneers of Apollo

The words will echo through time and space “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” — Neil Armstrong, 1969 moon landing. It is no surprise that a massive array of white men played their part in this significant moment, but who were the women who’s role was just as vital.

Frances Northcutt (Pictured above)

Northcutt is perhaps one of the most recognizable faces of NASA’s women; she was integral in return-to-Earth calculations. She was part of the team retrieving the Apollo 13 astronauts and all the moon landings in-between. She was utterly irreplaceable, forming a crucial part of the team that helped land men on the moon and one of the only women to be in the control room at the time.

As if this was not enough to be part of the incredible, awe-inspiring achievements woman have partaken in, Northcutt has since gone on to be a world-leading women’s rights activist. She champions the equal state for women.

Katherine Johnson

The Apollo moon landing is arguably the most famous event in space travel history, though Johnson had been demonstrating her talents long before 1969.

The same year NASA received orders from President John F. Kennedy to work on the moon landing, John Glenn was on a mission for an orbital space flight. Johnson would work on calculations that would form her reputation and later lead to her work on Apollo 11.

Computers would calculate the trajectory of rockets from take-off, orbit and in Apollo 11’s case time to the moon. However, astronauts did not always trust machines when their lives were at stake, and Johnson was the woman they called for to get the job done.

Margaret Hamilton

When we think of computing and the incredible accomplishments made, we often think of the impacts men have made, such as Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook). Fifty years ago Hamilton had such an impact with her impeccable error-free software that it managed to land men on the moon getting them back to Earth safely. Her computing skills were that flawless she had no software bugs known on any of the crewed Apollo missions she was involved with.

President Barack Obama honored her in 2016 for her accomplishments; during this time, Hamilton, then 82 was awarded the highest US civilian award in the; The Medal of Freedom. She looks back today on her crucial computing work with pride.

Rita Rapp

Apollo missions rely on science, calculation, and most importantly people. People need nutrition, and this is where NASA’s head of the Apollo Food System team stepped in. Rapp took her team to work and created home-like comfort foods the astronauts could eat (and enjoy) contrasting the cube-like mess that was commonplace.

Rapps food ensured the astronauts were happy and healthy, offering nutrition in the style of home foods. They loved her creations such as her sugar cookies which were used as currency amongst crew remaining a favorite today.

JoAnn Morgan

It is hardly surprising when I say Morgan usually got to work the night shift when she started as an engineer on the space program. Nor that when her superiors explained her position to peers, the question ‘can we ask her to make coffee?’ was asked.

Morgan powered through with enthusiasm, and it ultimately led to her position on the most significant project of her life. She was the sole woman visible in the control room amongst the vast rows of white collared men. She then became the first female senior executive of the Kennedy space center and a true role model for women in science.

Sheila Thibeault

You probably think of all the buzz and excitement followed by days of sitting tight when it comes to the mission to the moon. However, one of the critical training programs was ensuring everything was lined up correctly when the time came. The astronauts did this via small very low-resolution tv’s. The woman who had to combat the distortion on these TVs was Thibeault herself; she played a critical role in making the astronauts lives a lot easier when landing.

To this day she is still playing a crucial role in NASA missions, she now works on protective clothing for radiation.

I’m a blog and article writer based in Sheffield, UK. I write about my life and passions.

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