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Remember the Women Who Made #Apollo50th Possible

Remember the Women Who Made #Apollo50th Possible

As the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of the historic Moon landing, we remember some of the women whose hard work and ingenuity made it possible. The women featured here represent just a small fraction of the enormous contributions made by women during the Apollo era. 

Margaret Hamilton, Computer Programmer


Margaret Hamilton led the team that developed the building blocks of software engineering — a term that she coined herself. Her systems approach to the Apollo software development and insistence on rigorous testing was critical to the success of Apollo. In fact, the Apollo guidance software was so robust that no software bugs were found on any crewed Apollo missions, and it was adapted for use in Skylab, the Space Shuttle and the first digital fly-by-wire systems in aircraft.

In this photo, Hamilton stands next to a stack of Apollo Guidance Computer source code. As she noted, “There was no second chance. We all knew that.”

Katherine Johnson, Aerospace Technologist


As a very young girl, Katherine Johnson loved to count things. She counted everything, from the number of steps she took to get to the road to the number of forks and plates she washed when doing the dishes.

As an adult, Johnson became a “human computer” for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which in 1958, became NASA. Her calculations were crucial to syncing Apollo’s Lunar Lander with the Moon-orbiting Command and Service Module. “I went to work every day for 33 years happy. Never did I get up and say I don’t want to go to work.“

Judy Sullivan, Biomedical Engineer


This fabulous flip belongs to biomedical engineer Judy Sullivan, who monitored the vital signs of the Apollo 11 astronauts throughout their spaceflight training via small sensors attached to their bodies. On July 16, 1969, she was the only woman in the suit lab as the team helped Neil Armstrong suit up for launch.

Sullivan appeared on the game show “To Tell the Truth,” in which a celebrity panel had to guess which of the female contestants was a biomedical engineer. Her choice to wear a short, ruffled skirt stumped everyone and won her a $500 prize. In this photo, Sullivan monitors a console during a training exercise for the first lunar landing mission.

Billie Robertson, Mathematician


Billie Robertson, pictured here in 1972 running a real-time go-no-go simulation for the Apollo 17 mission, originally intended to become a math teacher. Instead, she worked with the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, which later became rolled into NASA. She created the manual for running computer models that were used to simulate launches for the Apollo, Skylab and Apollo Soyuz Test Project programs. 

Robertson regularly visited local schools over the course of her career, empowering young women to pursue careers in STEM and aerospace.

Mary Jackson, Aeronautical Engineer


In 1958, Mary Jackson became NASA’s first African-American female engineer. Her engineering specialty was the extremely complex field of boundary layer effects on aerospace vehicles at supersonic speeds.

In the 1970s, Jackson helped the students at Hampton’s King Street Community center build their own wind tunnel and use it to conduct experiments. “We have to do something like this to get them interested in science,” she said for the local newspaper. “Sometimes they are not aware of the number of black scientists, and don’t even know of the career opportunities until it is too late.”

Ethel Heinecke Bauer, Aerospace Engineer


After watching the launch of Sputnik in October 1957, Ethel Heinecke Bauer changed her major to mathematics. Over her 32 years at NASA, she worked at two different centers in mathematics, aerospace engineering, development and more. 

Bauer planned the lunar trajectories for the Apollo program including the ‘free return’ trajectory which allowed for a safe return in the event of a systems failure  — a trajectory used on Apollo 13, as well as the first three Apollo flights to the Moon. In the above photo, Bauer works on trajectories with the help of an orbital model.

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