Marianne J. Dyson

Poppy Northcutt
First Female Flight Controller, Frances M. (Poppy) Northcutt (NASA Photo)

Women in Mission Control

The Apollo Program

The first woman assigned a technical console in a support room was Frances (Poppy) M. Northcutt in the Flight Dynamics Support room during Apollo 8 in 1968. She is generally acknowledged as the first female flight controller.

There were no women in primary positions in the Mission Operations Control Room during the Apollo Program. But there were "hidden" women in support positions. Some of them were secretarial support and therefore not considered flight controllers. However, others, like Northcutt, had technical degrees and did technical work like computing trajectories, analyzing data, and writing computer programs, though most of them generally did not call themselves flight controllers.

The lists below were generated using Mission Control staffing charts published by NASA during the Apollo era. I compiled and organized the data to determine which women were the first to work certain positions and which worked multiple flights. Personnel who were "on call" or located in buildings other than Building 30 (where Mission Control is located) at Johnson Space Center were not listed, though they may have actively worked in support of operations during Apollo flights. This is especially true for Apollo 13 when the emergency required all manner of experts and staff to be brought in to help analyze the data and find solutions to issues. Also, from speaking with Apollo flight controllers, I've discovered that some of the contractors were not listed on the charts, though they worked side-by-side with their government coworkers. If you know of someone who worked in Mission Control that is not listed, please contact me.

The lists below do NOT include launch controllers at Kennedy Space Center. The International Women's Air & Space museum lists JoAnn Morgan as the first woman launch controller.

Apollo Systems Support Rooms

Most of the women who worked in Mission Control were supporting the Flight Dynamics, Retro, and Guidance Officers in Mission Control as "computers" who had various titles depending on the trajectory and targeting requirements of the missions. For example, Apollo 8 required support personnel to compute the trans-lunar injection engine burns and targets, but Apollo 9, which didn't leave Earth orbit, did not. The Apollo landing missions required Lunar Module (LM, pronounced "lem")support. Thus, not every position was staffed for every Apollo flight or phase of flight.

Vehicle System Support Room

This room supported the Command & Service Module (CSM) and the Lunar Module (LM) experts in the MOCR. This room was not listed for Apollo 10. For Apollo 12 they were called Secretarial Support versus Message Coordinators. For Apollo 13, clerical support was separated for CSM and LM. I'm not sure if they were in the same room or two separate support rooms.

Message Coordinators

  • Ada Moon, Ap4, Apollo 7, 8, 9
  • Sheila A. Nice, Ap4, Apollo 6
  • Diana R. Guy, Ap4, Apollo 6
  • Dorothy M. Hamilton, Apollo 5, 12, 13 (LM)
  • Katherine J. Spencer, Apollo 5, 11
  • Marilyn H. Garzon, Apollo 5, 12
  • Frances R. Vasquez, Apollo 7, 8, 11
  • Olivia Diann Merrell, Apollo 7, 8, 11, 12, 13
  • Beverly Hobbs, Apollo 12
  • Maxine Kitay (GAC?) 12, Apollo 13 (LM)
  • Alandra Y. Brady (NR?) Apollo 13
  • Donna Daughrity, Apollo 13 (LM)

Flight Director Support Room

This room had multiple consoles that supported the Flight Director in the MOCR. Only the position staffed by women is listed here, though two men were also on the roster for this position: James Nathan Leech, Apollo 7, 8, 11, 13 and Jimmy J. Ruiz for Apollo 12 (ITT). I think ITT stood for International Telephone & Telegraph Corporation. I don't know if the people listed worked for ITT or not.

Runners

  • Jackie Allee, Apollo 12
  • Maureen T. Ventura, Apollo 12

Clerical Support

  • Virginia Ellis, Apollo 7
  • Barbara J. McClelland, Apollo 7, 9
  • Gloria G. Gammon, Apollo 8, 9, 10, 11 (ITT)
  • Eva L. Harrison, Apollo 8
  • Dixie M. Scurlock, Apollo 9, 11 (ITT), 12
  • Pat B. Dewey, Apollo 10,12 (is this maiden name of Patricia Bonham?)
  • Patricia B. Bonham, Apollo 13 (ITT)
  • Cherryl (spelling?) L. Brewer, Apollo 10, 11 (ITT)
  • Joyce E. Gaddy, Apollo 11 (had MOCR badge for access to front room)
  • Christine M. Rizzo, Apollo 12 (ITT), 13
  • Linda J. Lumberg, Apollo 13 (ITT)

Spacecraft Analysis (SPAN) Support Room

This room had multiple consoles that supported the Mission Director and Flight Director in the MOCR, and were generally the managers of the contractor teams who were involved in the design and development of the hardware and software. I found 21 different positions listed for the SPAN SSR during Apollo. Only two of those positions included women. The Program Office Support position was only staffed for the unmanned test flights: Ap4, Apollo 5, 6, and 7 and only four women versus 29 men were assigned that position. Only the women are listed below. The list of men is available on request.

Program Office Support

  • Susan M. Cardenas, Ap4
  • Wanda S. Slack, Ap4
  • Vickie J. Burns, Ap4
  • Karen Hollenbeck, Apollo 5, 6

Secretarial Support

  • Katherine Spencer, Apollo 12, 13

Aeromed System Support Room

This room supported the Flight Surgeon in the MOCR. Nine positions were listed for Apollo. Only two of these positions were staffed by women, with both being exclusively filled by women, and are listed below.

Message Coordinators/Clerical Support (no data for Apollo 10)

  • Phyllis Johnson, Apollo 7, 8, 9, 11, 13
  • Joanne Hulo, Apollo 7
  • Fran P. Moore, Apollo 7, 8, 9, 11, 13
  • Joanna LaBorde, Apollo 8, 9
  • Judy Delcambre, Apollo 8
  • Donna Osborne, Apollo 8, 9, 11
  • Margery Weaver, Apollo 8, 9, 11, 12, 13
  • Sandra Burdsal, Apollo 8 or 9 (can't read my handwritten note!)
  • Marion Ward, Apollo 9
  • Bonnie Smith, Apollo 9
  • Martha Taylor, Apollo 11
  • Donna L. Sanders, Apollo 11, 12
  • Jackie rogers, Apollo 11
  • Adrienne P. Foster, Apollo 11
  • Sharon Clarke, Apollo 12, 13
  • Mary Rochelle, Apollo 13
  • Alma M. Gray, Apollo 13

ITT/FEC (?) Math Aides

  • Sandra Smith, Apollo 7
  • Bonnie Hester, Apollo 7
  • Judy Ferstl, Apollo 7

Flight Dynamics Support Room

The Flight Dynamics Support Room had multiple consoles, some of which were staffed by women. Only those positions staffed by women are listed here. Some of these women may have worked for International Telephone & Telegraph Corp. because they were listed on the roster with ITT after their names.

RTCC or RTE (Retro) Program Specialist

  • Frances M. (Poppy) Northcutt, Apollo 8, 10, 11 (as a contractor with TRW), 12, 13

Engineering Aide

This position was not listed for Apollo 13-17. The position was exclusively assigned to women.

  • Retha M. Hanson, Apollo 10
  • Margaret E. Crawford, Apollo 10
  • Evelyn D. Lansford, Apollo 10, 11 (ITT)(or Langford? See next list)
  • Patsy J. Smith, Apollo (ITT)
  • Priscilla L. Nichols, Apollo 11 (ITT)
  • Linda A. Holder, Apollo 12 (ITT) (see next position.)

Engineering Aide RTACF (Auxiliary Control)

This position was not listed for Apollo 8, or 13-17. The position was exclusively assigned to women.

  • Mary McKee, Ap4 (ITT)
  • Laura Wilson, Ap4 (ITT)
  • Judy Ferstel, Apollo 5
  • Sandra L. Smith, Apollo 6
  • Patsy Moore, Apollo 7 (Is this same woman as Patsy Smith?)
  • Evelyn D. Langford, Apollo 7 (or Langsford? See previous position.)
  • Susan Hallmark, Apollo 7, 9
  • Gwendolyn Arrington, Apollo 7 (should be Harrington?)
  • Charlotte Toole, Apollo 7
  • Priscilla Lankford, Apollo 7
  • Carolyn Trigg, Apollo 7
  • Jerry L. Snyder, Apollo 9 (man or woman?)
  • Connie A. Henson, Apollo 9
  • Mary D. Johnson, Apollo 9 (RTACF Aide)
  • Sylvia L. Park, Apollo 9 (RTACF Aide)
  • Pamela J. Nix, Apollo 9 (RTACF Aide)
  • Linda A. Holder, Apollo 10, 12 (Holder listed twice? See previous position)
  • Werdna D. Gray, Apollo 10
  • Gil M. Tulley, Apollo 10
  • Debra L. Shore, Apollo 11 (ITT)

RTACF Run Coordinators

  • Diana R. Wiggins, Apollo 7,8

Weather Room Space Environment

The Weather Room personnel supported the Flight Dynamics Officer (for abort and entry data) and also, I believe, the DoD position who helped coordinate military assets and the recovery teams who were scattered all around the world.

  • Alva C. Hardy, Space Environment, Apollo 7, 8, 13

Real Time Computer Control Control (RTCC)

The Real Time Computer Control (RTCC) Support Room had multiple consoles. They were supporting the Guidance Officer. Only those positions staffed by women are listed here. I think CCATS stands for Communications, Command And Telemetry Systems.

Computer Command

  • Jackie L. Barnes Apollo 9, 11 (contractor with IBM)

RTOS Support Specialist

  • Patricia A. Raby, Apollo 7
  • Holly Hensley, Apollo 11 (contractor with IBM)

CCATS Message Coordinators

  • Diane L. Janecka, Ap 4
  • Irene L. Hatfield, Ap4
  • Dianne M. Ferguson, Ap4

CCATS Documentation Coordinators

  • Celeste or Calista E. Head, Apollo 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12
  • Elizabeth Head, Apollo 13 (Is this Celeste? by her middle name?)
  • Doris Kluge, Apollo 10, 11, 12, 13

CCATS Clerical Support

  • Claudeen Ledford, Apollo 13
  • Donna Tarpey, Apollo 13

CCATS Scheduling Console

  • Jackie E. Gregan, Apollo 13
  • Ann P. Crowder, Apollo 13

Operations and Procedures System Support Room

This room supported the Operations and Procedures position in the MOCR.

  • Connie R. Turner, Secretary, AS203 (unmanned test flight)

Auxiliary Computer Room

I don't know which position this room supported, but there were multiple consoles in this room. Only those staffed by women are listed below.

Program Consultant

  • Delores Moorehead, Ap4, 6 (unmanned test flights)

Run Coordinator

  • Diana Dutcher, Apollo 5 (unmanned test flight)

Engineering Aide

  • Mary Ann Lankford, Ap4 (unmanned test flight)
  • Priscilla Lankford, Apollo 5 (is this also Mary Ann?)
  • Patsy A. Moore, Apollo 6 (unmanned test flight)

Author's note: I invite any of you who participated in the early space program with information about women in flight control to contact me. I'd love to hear more about the historical contributions of women, and would also appreciate scans of any photos!

MORE INFO

What is it like to be a flight controller? Read my memoir, A Passion for Space, or invite me to speak.

Learn about:

http://iwasm.org/wp-blog/ - International Women's Air & Space Museum

Layout of Apollo Mission Control consoles and support rooms.

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