“Women could do these jobs”: Meet the trail blazers behind the historic Apollo 11 launch07/16/2019
Tuesday marks 50 years since three men in space suits set off on the greatest scientific adventure of all-time. As the astronauts of Apollo 11 headed to the moon, the women of NASA were blazing new trails on Earth.
Poppy Northcutt, Joann Morgan and Margaret Hamilton were trail blazers, “hidden figures” critical to the success of the Apollo 11 mission. Morgan said it was life-changing.
“What it said to me and what meant so much to me is, ‘Hey, I am really now part of this team,'” she said.
She was accepted in a profession not used to women.
“My director said, ‘I want Joann at the console. She’s my best communicator. She’s the one,'” Morgan said.
She was the one listening to communications for problems and the only woman inside the firing room for the launch of the Saturn V rocket.
With the astronauts on the way to the moon, the task of alerting them to any problems fell to Hamilton at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and her team.
“You had to solve things that had never been solved before,” Hamilton said.
Her group wrote the lunar lander’s guidance software and they had to plan for every contingency.
“You had to say, ‘Well what if the astronaut put in this keystroke. What do we do to recover from it,'” she said.
Something unexpected did happen as Eagle was approaching the moon’s surface that could have jeopardized the mission.
“My first thought was, ‘How can this be happening now.’ I personally remember it as sheer terror,” Hamilton said.
There was no need to abort, her software was fine.
“It was the first time man walked on the moon and the first time software ran on the moon,” Hamilton said.
But the most critical phase of the mission had yet to come. Northcutt, the only woman inside of mission control, calculated the maneuvers that would bring those astronauts home.
“It’s very nerve wracking. It doesn’t matter how successful any other stage has been if you don’t get them back safe and sound,” Northcutt said. “It was also an opportunity I felt to encourage other women to go into science and technology and understand that women could do these jobs.”
It’s a role she realized was important.
“I got letters from all over the world, from little girls and boys saying, ‘I didn’t know women could do this,'” Northcutt said. “So I was very aware of it.”
CBS News’ one-hour special “Man on the Moon,” hosted by O’Donnell, airs Tuesday, July 16 beginning at 10 p.m. ET/PT.
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