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NASA’s Unsung Heroes

JoAnn Morgan NASA Apollo 11

As the AvGeek working on our Apollo 11 live tweeting project, I’ve been reading and watching (and eating and drinking) anything I can find about the Apollo 11 mission. (We couldn’t believe it when the wine we ordered last night arrived with this label – it was delicious!).

While we mark the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, it’s appropriate to focus our attention on the three brave astronauts who risked their lives to accomplish it on behalf of humanity. 

But it’s also a good time to celebrate the women who contributed to the Apollo program and helped make it a success. Luckily, movies like ‘Hidden Figures’ have begun to reveal that – from the beginning – the space program was not the all-male, all-white bastion we’ve long pictured, but in fact always included women and people of color.

So here’s a shout-out to just a few of the hundreds of women who made the moon landing possible:

Katherine Johnson

Johnson used her extraordinary math skills on create some of the earliest trajectory analysis for NASA’s manned space flights, including Freedom 7 and Friendship 7.

READ: “Hidden Figure no more: NASA honors pioneering math genius Katherine Johnson” (USA Today)

Mary Jackson

Jackson was one of NASA’s first female engineers. During her long career much of her work was focused on aerodynamics.

READ: “Mary Jackson” (Scientific Women)

Frances ‘Poppy’ Northcutt

Northcutt worked as an engineer for NASA’s mission planning and analysis support team during the Apollo Program, where she worked on plotting return trajectories.

READ: “Inside Apollo mission control, from the eyes of the first woman on the job” (National Geographic)

JoAnn Morgan

Morgan was an instrumentation controller for the Apollo 11 mission and the only woman in the launch firing room at Mission Control on 16 July, 1969. Her career at NASA spanned 45 years and she is the most decorated women in NASA history.

READ: “Rocket Fuel in Her Blood” (NASA

Margaret Hamilton

An MIT-trained computer programmer, Hamilton and her team wrote the software for Apollo 11’s two computers.

READ: “Margaret Hamilton Led the NASA Software Team That Landed Astronauts on the Moon” (Smithsonian Magazine)


“If you think going to the Moon is hard, try staying at home.”

Barbara Cernan

The Astronaut’s Wives

If you think going to the Moon is hard, try staying at home,” Barbara Cernan, wife of Gene Cernan, said after the Apollo 17 mission.

The astronauts’ wives and families were under enormous pressure during the space program. Not only did they have to cope with the extreme danger their spouses faced (in training as well as in space), they were also the subject of intense media attention. With reporters camped on their lawns during what had to have been some of the most stressful moments in their lives, they were expected to always represent NASA well, smiling and laughing through their fears when they appeared in public.

READ: “Drink, debauchery and despair: astronauts’ wives lift lid on grim reality behind the smiling Nasa space launches” (The Telegraph)

“Jan Evans recalls how it was for the families of moon voyagers in the Apollo era.” (Air & Space)


READ MORE: Here are some other interesting articles about women and the space program:

“To Make it to the Moon, Women Have to Escape Earth’s Gender Bias” (The New York Times)

“A Woman on the Moon and Equality on Earth” (Council on Foreign Relations)

“Who Will Be the First Woman to Walk on the Moon?” (The Telegraph)

“Women of Apollo” (The Los Angeles Times)

“Behind the men on the moon, there were thousands of women” (The Boston Globe)

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