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Reading some @NASAhistory, and was curious who this was...
Her name is Poppy Northcutt, and she's the first female engineer to work in Mission Control at @NASA_Johnson #Apollo8.
For half a century, pop culture has immortalized a group of quick-thinking, pocket-protected men as the face of NASA’s mission control room during the Apollo program. But amid this sea of men, was one woman: Frances “Poppy” Northcutt, engineer and return-to-Earth specialist #NASA
Before holding the title of "engineer," Poppy started with NASA as a “computress" (like many of the women at the space agency during her time). But unlike most in her day, she advanced to become a member of the technical team, and worked her way up into NASA's mission control.
By the age of 25, she was calculating the return-to-Earth trajectories for #Apollo8, first mission to leave Earth’s orbit and circle the Moon. She helped retrieve the #Apollo13 astronauts after the mid-flight disaster. And she worked on every other mission to the Moon in between.
ICYMI: @MAKERSwomen teamed up with #JodieFoster to create this great documentary that features the ascent of women in the US space program, including Poppy's story. Check it out: makers.com/videos/554ff06… #NASA #WomenInSTEM 🚀
Northcutt was born in Manny, Louisiana but grew up in Luling, Texas, where she went on to attend the University of Texas @UTAustin and study mathematics.
She chose math because it was a degree with which she could get “a man’s job … there were advantages to doing things where you could get paid more and avoiding women’s work,” she told Jane Ely in a 2008 interview for the Houston Oral History Project. Ref amp.businessinsider.com/poppy-northcut…
Poppy graduated from @UTAustin in 3.5 years, and then went to work at TRW Systems (contractor to #NASA) for the Apollo program. TRW designed and built the descent engine for the lunar lander (among other projects). Poppy immediately went to work on “Apollo stuff” as she put it.
At first it was a lot of grunt work, but they soon promoted Northcutt from “computress” to a member of the technical staff, which she says was the general term for "engineer."
Northcutt was stationed in @NASA_Johnson Mission Control’s Mission Planning and Analysis room, just down the hall from the main Mission Control Center. She was the first woman to work in there as part of NASA’s Mission Control.
"I felt a lot of pressure because I was the only woman," Northcutt said in the PBS documentary. But that didn't stop her. "I started looking around at these dudes that were working with me and I thought, 'you know, I’m as smart as they are.'" pbs.org/wgbh/americane…
Northcutt meticulously studied the path that NASA had planned for the astronaut's path home. As she analyzed the plan, she began asking questions and finding mistakes that needed critical corrections.
To be continued... :)
In the leadup to #Apollo8, Poppy and her team had no small task: design the return-to-Earth trajectory to bring astronauts home. She started taking the computer program home every night, and reverse-engineered them. Before long, she was one of the few who read every line of code.
Despite the meticulous planning, Poppy and team needed to be at Mission Control to support. After all, it was humanity’s *first* crewed mission to reach lunar orbit, and the *first* test for a lot of onboard hardware...it was also the first test of Northcutt and her team’s calcs.
Also, if there were any deviations, Northcutt and the rest of Mission Operations would have to make on-the-spot changes to the plan to ensure the astronauts’ safe return. E.g., if it took the astronauts too long to swing around the moon, it meant they had less fuel than expected.
As everyone waited for #Apollo8 to round the dark side of the moon and regain communication, Poppy recalled that "Everyone in the room is not breathing... Nobody's heart is beating. We're just totally still, waiting."
"Every second that they're late is just terrifying," said Poppy. A signal beeps...and comms with the capsule was restored. The mission was a great success! #Apollo8 returned to Earth safely on Dec 27, 1968, landing in the N Pacific Ocean. "And boy, did we have a splashdown party"
After #Apollo8, Poppy went on to support Apollo 10, 11, 12, and 13 as the RTCC or RTE (Retro) Program Specialist. Ref mariannedyson.com/ApolloWomen.ht… #womeninstem
During #Apollo11, a @ParisMatch reporter featured Poppy in an article, dubbing her the "Venus of Apollo." Ref psi.edu/sites/default/…
Fun Fact: Poppy Northcutt helped bring the #Apollo13 astronauts home after the mid-flight disaster when an oxygen tank exploded.
For #Apollo13, Poppy got to travel to FL to see the launch. She was just returning to TX when disaster struck. Her office phone began ringing in the emergency, but she hadn't returned yet. To add fuel to the fire, her personal phone # was...unlisted.
Of all people, it was @ABC reporter Jules Bergman who was able to reach Poppy w the emergency. She turned on the TV and saw the situation thinking, "I'd better go over there." Poppy went right into running free returns and looking into what it would take to get them back.
Regarding the computer program she supported: "It's used for nominal situations, but it was really developed for abnormal situations,” such as mission aborts. “It’s easy to come back nominally. #Apollo13 demonstrated that the program did exactly what it was designed to do.”
For her participation in helping with #Apollo13's safe return home, Poppy Northcutt was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom Team Award, along with the rest of the #NASA Mission Operations Team. @NASAhistory
A medal wasn't her only honor. She also has a *crater* on the moon named for her. It's called "Crater Poppy." And then #Apollo17, the last mission to land men on the moon, landed near Crater Poppy. #NASA @NASAhistory
Think that's it for Poppy? Hold on to your pants... Thanks to being one of the only women working in engineering, Poppy then became increasingly involved in the Women's Liberation movement. In 1974, the Mayor of Houston, TX named her the first "Women’s Advocate for the City."
In that role, Northcutt helped eliminate sex discrimination in the local fire department. She also helped pass a law that no longer allowed the state’s hospitals to charge women who came in for a rape kit 👏
While she was still working 30 hours a week at TRW/#NASA, Northcutt attended law school in the evenings, graduating summa cum laude from the University of Houston Law Center @UHLAW in 1984.
Fun Fact: Much of her life's work has centered on #womensrights. Even as a young woman with TRW/NASA, she found ways to be involved. She became a member of NOW, the National Organization for Women, advocating for #equalpay, rights, and access for women. @NationalNOW #WomenInStem
After that, Poppy stepped out of the spotlight on #womensrights and became a *criminal defense lawyer* 💪 “I might have been less visible in the Women’s Movement, but I was always involved in women’s rights one way or the other,” said Poppy.
Poppy became the *first* felony prosecutor in the domestic violence unit at the DA’s office where she worked. And if that wasn't enough, she continues to work and volunteer for several organizations in Houston, advocating for abortion rights.
For all that you've done, from one engineer to another, Thank you, @poppy_northcutt 👏👏👏 #womeninstem #nasa
If you have access to @PBS, tune in July 8-10 for "Chasing the Moon," a 6-part documentary about the #spacerace (just in time for the 50th anniv of #Apollo11)....and among the features will be Poppy Northcutt. pbs.org/wgbh/americane… #chasingthemoonPBS #AmExperiencePBS
Thank you to @julia_bergeron for teaching me about the incredible @poppy_northcutt 💪 If you've made it this far in the thread and are interested in finding more inspiring role models: @RocketWomen_ @WomenNASA @SWISEofficial @WikiWomenInRed @WomenInno @WomeninAero @MAKERSwomen
Interesting! Looks like there may be an error in the article I pulled this from... From a convo between Astronaut Gene Cernan and Editor of the #Apollo17 "Lunar Surface Journal," Eric Jones, there's an incorrect spelling (Poppie) & was named by Cernan. Ref hq.nasa.gov/alsj/a17/a17.s…
Fun Fact: Poppy was the only woman working at Mission Control during the #Apollo13 emergency. And not too surprisingly, this article uses almost as many column inches asking about her social life as it does her technical work with #Apollo computer systems news.google.com/newspapers?dat…
If you see any errors or gaps in Poppy's wiki bio, please take the time to correct/add to it ➡️
Almost forgot a great reference... Ref 4) digital.houstonlibrary.net/oral-history/f…
Fun Fact: Poppy received the #SilverSnoopy flight safety award from Neil Armstrong for her work on #Apollo11 👨‍🚀
Note: this video is a trailer for the upcoming PBS Documentary #ChasingTheMoonPBS. The @MAKERSwomen video referenced here is in the above link.
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