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 TBS team in the MOCR.

Message Coordinators

  • TBS
  • TBS

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.

Runners

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

Clerical Support

  • TBS

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. Only the positions staffed by women are listed here.

Program Office Support

  • TBS
  • TBS

Secretarial Support

  • Katherine Spencer, Apollo 12, 13

Aeromed System Support Room

This room supported the Flight Surgeon in the MOCR. Only the positions staffed by women are listed here.

Message Coordinators/Clerical Support

  • Phyllis Johnson, Apollo 7,8, 9, 11, 13
  • Joanne Hulo, Apollo 7
  • Fran P. Moore, Apollo 7,8, 9, 11, 13
  • TBS

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.

RTCC or RTE (Retro) Program Specialist

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

Engineering Aide

  • TBS

Engineering Aide RTACF (Auxiliary Control)

  • TBS

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.

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 (?Computer Control something? Telemetry) 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

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