Behind the men on the moon, there were thousands of womenHistorians in the News
tags: Apollo 11, womens history, moon landing
Sometimes we reduce history to condensed versions of the truth that leave out a lot of the story. This, for example, is what we remember of July 20, 1969: Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon, and their every step was monitored back on earth by men dressed in white shirts and skinny black ties, tethered to headsets at NASA’s Mission Control in Houston.
But as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission this week, let’s remember something else: the thousands of women from Cambridge to California who helped make possible the trip to the moon. They did everything from developing Apollo 11’s in-flight software module to weaving copper wire for the spacecraft’s guidance system.
Let them no longer be hidden figures of history. Just like the Hollywood movie of the same name that told the stories of Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson, three African-American women who worked at NASA’s early space program, we should get to know the women who were a critical part of Apollo 11. This anniversary, let’s remember the many women, including Annie Easley, Susan Finley, Margaret Hamilton, Helen Ling, JoAnn Morgan, Poppy Northcutt, and Saydean Zeldin. Some local companies, including Draper and Raytheon, are using their websites to highlight the women behind the launch.
Hamilton and Zeldin worked in Cambridge at the MIT Instrumentation Lab (later spun off to become Draper). Zeldin, an engineer with a degree in physics, joined the lab in 1966 when she was 26. She worked on the command module program responsible for turning the engines on and off; astronauts used the program to adjust their trajectory when they exited earth’s orbit or when they entered the lunar orbit.
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