She was a trailblazer among trailblazers: An exclusive new clip from the upcoming PBS documentary "Chasing the Moon" profiles the challenges and triumphs of Poppy Northcutt, the first woman to work in Mission Control.
Northcutt was a return-to-Earth specialist who worked in the Mission Control in Houston starting with Apollo 8.
"I started off working as a computress — I don't know why they called them computresses — we weren't necessarily doing computer work," Northcutt says in the video. "It was sort of like 'Mad Men'; that was a fairly accurate description of the world for women. But I was really fascinated. I wanted to know what I was doing and why I was doing it, and I had a math degree. I'd taken a celestial mechanics course."
Eventually, she made it into Mission Control, and her modern-day description of what it was like is interspersed with news coverage she appeared in from the era.
"The mere fact that a lot of women found out for the first time that there was a woman in Mission Control was a very big deal," Northcutt says in the clip. "I thought it was important that people understand that women can do these jobs — going into science, going into technology. Doing something that's not stereotypical."
"Chasing the Moon," airing July 8-10 in the PBS "American Experience" series, will be a six-part documentary about the space race just in time for the Apollo 11 moon landing's 50th anniversary. According to a statement from PBS, in addition to profiling Northcutt, the series includes interviews with astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Frank Borman and Bill Anders; futurist Freeman Dyson; Sergei Khrushchev, a rocket engineer and the son of former Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev; and Ed Dwight, who trained as America's first black astronaut. The series is written, produced and directed by Robert Stone.
- The Women Computers of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory
- 'Mission Control' Film About NASA's Apollo Unsung Heroes is a 'Go'
- Apollo 8 Launched 1st Astronauts Around the Moon 50 Years Ago
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Sarah Lewin started writing for Space.com in June of 2015 as a Staff Writer and became Associate Editor in 2019 . Her work has been featured by Scientific American, IEEE Spectrum, Quanta Magazine, Wired, The Scientist, Science Friday and WGBH's Inside NOVA. Sarah has an MA from NYU's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program and an AB in mathematics from Brown University. When not writing, reading or thinking about space, Sarah enjoys musical theatre and mathematical papercraft. She is currently Assistant News Editor at Scientific American. You can follow her on Twitter @SarahExplains.