Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Celebrating the Women of Apollo

Splashdown! Today marks the 50th anniversary of the return of Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins, after a historic mission that saw Neil and Buzz on the lunar surface for about 3 hours. In mid-1969, there were about 100 women, including 16 engineers, serving in top positions at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. But thousands of other women around the country also supported the Apollo program, before, during, and after 1969. Many of them have recently been interviewed as part of the 50th anniversary, and their stories have appeared in various news outlets. For easy reference, we list many here and you can find more here and here. If you find even more (and we hope you do!), please let us know in the comments section. As we go forward to the Moon with Artemis, including the first women landing on the lunar surface by 2024 and onward to Mars, women around the world will continue to leave indelible marks on the Moon and throughout the solar system.

Judy Allton: Lunar scientist and curator of astromaterials at Johnson Space Center. She helped design the lunar sample collection vessels used by the Apollo astronauts.
Read more:
Cecelia Bibby (1928-2012): Artist who painted the "Friendship 7" logo on John Glenn's spacecraft (and other names on other vehicles). Her supervisor initially objected to her painting the name since women rarely, if ever, went up on the launch pad towers.

Mary Blagg (1858–1944)English astronomer who made significant contributions to standardizing lunar nomenclature.

Margaret “Hap” Brennecke: The woman who welded Apollo's rockets.
“I had to work twice as hard,” she said, “particularly when either of my immediate supervisors would interfere with what I was trying to do. They would give me an assignment and the next thing you know, they were playing some kind of a trick. You learn there is such a thing as survival. You learn how to go around or up or down.”
Elaine Denniston: The woman who corrected programmers' code to ensure the safety of the Apollo astronauts.

Mary Orr Evershed (1867-1949): English amateur astronomer who studied Dante and authored an index on the named lunar craters.

The First Lady Astronaut Trainees: 13 pilots who were selected for tests to study whether or not women would make good astronauts. 
Jerrie Cobb stands next to the
Mercury capsule (NASA).
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Margaret Hamilton (1936- ): The woman who coined the term "software engineering."

Mary Jackson (1921-2005): NASA’s first black female engineer. As manager of NASA Langley’s Federal Women’s Program, she positively influenced the hiring and promotion of the next generation of female mathematicians, engineers, and scientists.

Odette James: Lunar sample scientist who characterized some of the first rock samples brought to Earth by the Apollo astronauts.

Barbara Crawford Johnson: From Apollo 8 to the shuttle, she "told spacecraft how to fly." 

Katherine Johnson (1918- ): A math prodigy, Johnson calculated the trajectories for the successful flights of Alan Shepard and John Glenn. She also worked out the equations to sync Apollo’s Lunar Lander with the Moon-orbiting Command and Service Module so that the astronauts could come home.

Lisa Klein: Studied lunar rocks from one of the Apollo missions before becoming the first female faculty member at Rutgers University’s engineering school.

Computers at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL).
Helen Ling: At the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Ling developed software for space missions, including the Infrared Astronomical Satellite, Magellan, and Mars Observer. She hired only women, thinking "if you didn't give them a chance, they'll never get a chance." 

Andrea Mosie: With over 42 years of experience, she is the Apollo sample laboratory manager at Johnson Space Center and 
oversees the 842 pounds of Apollo lunar samples.
“When I first got here, I found it funny because all the sample processors [in my area] were men,” Mosie said. “But, over time, it gradually changed to all-female processors. I used to always say, ‘All right, women are taking over!’”

Ann MontgomeryThe woman who managed the cameras and other crucial gear used on the Moon.

JoAnn Morgan in a sea of men (
JoAnn MorganThe only woman engineer in the launch firing room during the liftoff of Apollo 11.
“I hope that photos like the ones I’m in don’t exist anymore.” 
Read more: 

Poppy Northcutt: The woman who calculated the return-to-Earth trajectories for Apollo 8, the first mission to leave Earth’s orbit and circle the Moon. 
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Carle Pieters (1943- ): Lunar scientist, who is a pioneer in the field of planetary remote sensing. She has made important contributions to planetary spectroscopy, mineralogy, and geoscience.

Judy SullivanThe first woman engineer hired by NASA to support spacecraft testing. She monitored the equipment that provided crucial data about the astronauts' respiration, body temperature, and heartbeats.
“I was not a brilliant student,” Sullivan said. “I was just a hard worker and motivated.”
Dorothy Vaughan (1910-2008): NASA's first African American manager and an expert FORTRAN programmer.
A signed face card hung in
every Apollo spacesuit (

Susan Wentworth:
 Lunar sample scientist who helped to characterize the Apollo regolith and glass samples.

Women Who Prepared the Meals: Women at Stouffer's utilized food science methodologies to ensure the health of the Apollo 11 astronauts during their 21-day quarantine after their return to Earth.

Women Who Sewed the Spacesuits: From Playtex to Apollo, the women of International Latex had the agility to sew the gossamer-thin fabric into life-saving suits. "Their work could be the difference between victory and tragedy."

Saydean Zeldin: Zeldin "was afraid of those darn computers" and then developed novel software that helped Apollo fly.


  1. Another unsung woman engineer, whose expertise in hydrazine monoprop thrusters guided virtually every mission to the Moon and beyond since Apollo, is Olwen Morgan.

    Brought to my attention by the Reed College alumni office.

  2. That story must be told and retold. As an example of the mindset of people at that early stage, there was real opposition to the idea of involving technically astute women in the first phase of the program. When I made a list of recent graduates to interview, one was a woman. My physicist boss screened at me: “Are you out of your mind” and he continued, “you are training astronauts... do you think you can take a woman with you!!” That was the end of the discussion.

  3. Baerbel Lucchitta and Caroll Ann Hodges, both at USGS. Ursala Marvin was at SAO, I think. All of these lunar scientists were active before and after Apollo.