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Apollo´s women

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.

Heroines in the background of the moon landing

He would have celebrated his 90th birthday on August 5: Neil Armstrong, the first man on the moon. His "small step" 51 years ago was a milestone in world history.

Neil Alden Armstrong, who was born in 1930 in Wapakoneta, Ohio, already had a successful career as a fighter jet and test pilot when he joined NASA's Gemini project in 1962. On his very first flight into space he functioned as the mission commander. But it was still a long way, also marked by coincidence, until he became commander of Apollo 11 and took the first steps on the moon. Later he worked as a university professor and for companies. He died on August 25, 2012.

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 until 2024. 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 on the 50th anniversary of the 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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Pictures: NASA, Wikimedia Commons

Last updated: 20 October 2020 

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