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Apollo´s women

The heroines behind the moon landing

JoAnn Morgan was the only woman who worked in the control room during the launch of Apollo 11 in 196

JoAnn Morgan was the only woman who worked in the control room during the launch of Apollo 11 in 1969.

The man on the moon

Ten years ago, the first man on the moon died: Neil Armstrong. A name that, like Columbus or Magellan, stands for the greatest voyages of discovery in human history.
Neil Alden Armstrong, who was born on 5 August 1930 near Wapakoneta in Ohio, became enthusiastic about flying at an early age and had his pilot's licence before he was allowed to drive a car. As a military pilot in the Korean War and a test pilot for the US Air Force, he was an early candidate for the first Apollo missions. However, it took a mixture of competence and coincidence that finally made him the commander of the Apollo 11 rocket and the first moon mission. With his colleague Buzz Aldrin on board, he piloted the landing module Eagle to a safe landing on 20 July 1969; Michael Collins remained in orbit in the command module. Neil Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon at 02:56:20 on 21 July 1969. "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind", his words on that occasion, are among the most famous quotes in history (and no, he did not say "Good luck, Mr. Gorsky" on leaving the moon, as modern legend has it!).
Two years later he left NASA to teach as a professor of aerospace engineering at the University of Cincinnati until 1979. He then turned businessmen and became rich as a board member, manager and founder. He always advocated new manned space flights to the Moon and Mars. Neil Armstrong died on 25 August 2012 in Cincinnati as a result of a heart operation in which there had apparently been treatment malpractice (his family later received millions in compensation).

Neil Armstrong in lunar module simulator

Neil Armstrong in lunar module simulator

Everybody knows the name of the first man on the moon. The second moon man´s name - Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin - is also still well known until today. Even the name of the third crew member Michael Collins, who remained in the spaceship in the moon orbit during the moon landing of his colleagues, is still well known to many today. But only a few people knew until recently that some women had also played a decisive role in the millennium project of the lunar landing. In recent years, the names of some of these heroines have become known to a wider public. The DPMA presents some of them in a small series.

Over 400,000 people participated in NASA's Apollo programme, including many women. Back in the 1960´s, science and technology were even more male-dominated than they are today. But some women held key positions in the Apollo program. Most of them worked anonymously behind the scenes; Frances "Poppy" Northcutt was one of the few women involved who came into the public spotlight at the time.

Return to the moon?

Saturn V rocket before launch to the moon

Saturn V rocket before launch to the moon

After the sensational first moon landing, the USA brought a total of ten astronauts to the moon in five further Apollo missions - all men. It was not until 1983 that NASA sent the first female astronaut Sally Ride into space, The Russians, on the other hand, had already brought the first woman into space 20 years earlier: Valentina Tereschkowa.

In 1972, NASA ended its Apollo programme in favour of other projects such as Skylab and the Space Shuttle missions. The programme cost 25.4 billion dollars at the time (that would be about four times as much today). At that time nobody would have expected that there would be no more moon landings for more than half a century.
Meanwhile, NASA has announced that it will return to the moon soon. And then finally a woman should get there, too.

Series "Apollo's Women - Heroines in the Background of the Moon Landing"

Series of short portraits, first published on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing

Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson
Maths genius and NASA icon

The most famous of the female NASA scientists with African-American roots who became famous much later thanks the film "Hidden Figures" was Katherine G. Johnson, who died in February 2020 aged 101 years.

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Margaret Hamilton

Margaret Hamilton
"Rope mother" and software pioneer

Perhaps the most famous of the women behind the Apollo missions is Margaret Hamilton (born 1936). She was responsible for developing the on-board flight software used for flight navigation and landing on the moon.

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Dorothy Vaughan

Dorothy Vaughan
„Hidden Figure“ in management position

When NASA pioneers have been mentioned, Dorothy Vaughan (1910-2008) has rarely been named. But she was NASA’s first female African-American manager.

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Mary Jackson

Mary Jackson
NASA’s first black female engineer

Mary W. Jackson (1921-2005) followed a tortuous route to the space programme. She worked in various fields, including as a mathematics teacher, before landing a job at the West Area Computing Unit of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in 1951.

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JoAnn Morgan

JoAnn Morgan
Alone among men

July 16, 1969. The launch of the Saturn V rocket on its way to the moon. The entire control room at the Kennedy Space Center is packed with men. The whole room? No. A single woman is among the many nervous engineers overseeing the launch of the Apollo 11 mission: JoAnn Morgan.

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Nancy Roman

Nancy G. Roman
She showed the astronauts the way to the stars

Dr. Nancy Grace Roman paved the way for women into space travel: She was the first chief astronomer at NASA and thus the first woman in a senior management position.

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Frances "Poppy" Northcutt

Frances "Poppy" Northcutt
She brought the men on the Moon back to Earth

A lunar crater is named after Frances Northcutt – or rather after her nickname “Poppy”. Northcutt was the first female engineer to have worked in NASA’s Mission Control. Back then, one could only see men in the mission control centre in Houston, so the young woman created a great sensation among the public.

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Barbara Crawford Johnson

Barbara Crawford Johnson
The boss

From the Apollo programme to the Space Shuttle era, Barbara Crawford Johnson was the woman who told spacecraft how to fly. She worked for NASA at the Rockwell International Space Division for 36 years, helping steer the Skylab space station and pointing the way for the shuttle programme.

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Pictures: NASA, Wikimedia Commons, NASA, University of Illinois

Last updated: 12 August 2022