Poppy Northcutt: Up to the moon and back

Etxebeste Aduriz, Egoitz

Elhuyar Zientzia

Ed. Manu Ortega/CC BY-NC-ND

“In Housto we have had a problem here” when heard it was not in the control center. When an ABC journalist called him, he discovered that an oxygen tank exploded and that the three astronauts of Apollo 13 were in a dangerous situation. The journalist wanted to know what they were going to do to return them. The television. And he thought it right away: “Better I go to the center”.

From the center also tried to contact Poppy but did not get it. Two days earlier the shooting was seen in Florida and until the next day it was not back. Nothing more came to think and calculate with his companions how to bring astronauts to Earth. In fact, the calculus program to return to Earth was designed by Poppy and his companions. His work was essential.

The situation was serious. However, four days later, on April 17, 1970, astronauts returned good. A woman, who participated in a beauty contest and has maintained a romantic relationship with astronaut John Swigert Jr., has participated in the delivery of the crew of Apollo 13 to home” an article published in several newspapers claimed. “Poppy Northcutt, a charming 26-year-old mathematician, was the only woman working at the Mission Control Center, in the emergency of Apollo 13” the report continued.

In many media the dotes of Northcutt were extolled: gold hair, fairy freckles, a pair of exquisite legs or the miniguas that fit well. He even suggested that the work might be nice.

Frances Miriam was called Northcutt, but his brother called Poppy from the beginning. He liked the most the putting by his brother. He studied mathematics at the University, on the one hand because, according to all the skills tests, he had great mathematical skills, and on the other, because he wanted to avoid the work of women and had the opportunity to perform better paid jobs of men. He started working at the aerospace agency TRW. This agency worked for NASA in the Apollo missions.

Start working as a computer by performing basic monotonous calculations. “Computress” relates Northcutt in the documentary MAKERS: Women in Space. “All computers were women and all engineers were men” Among all were to design a program of return from the Moon to the Earth. Aware that it was really an important issue, he began to ask questions. And every time he asked better questions, including those that showed that there were errors in the program. “I looked at those types that surround me and thought: ‘you&rsquo are as clear as these. Every night I started to take the program home and do reverse engineering. Surely I will be the only person who read all the lines of that code,”.

They went up to the engineer post. She was the first woman to work on NASA mission control. In December 1968, when he was 25 years old, he participated in a control table at the Apollo 8 mission. I felt a lot of pressure because I was the only woman. I would love to be the tenth or the twentieth”. He feared that if things went wrong, they would not be blamed for a woman, which would close the way to other women. “There I began to become aware and, in part, that is why I then entered into feminism”.

In the Apollo 8 mission, astronauts first came out of the earth's orbit and reached the moon. The goal was to turn around him and return to Earth. “It was the most exciting in the world, no doubt says Northcutt— I was working on the most exciting in the world.

The motor of the spacecraft was lit to enter the orbit of the Moon. They were going to enter after the Moon and for the first time they would remain without communication. “They had to make an important manoeuvre, without communication, and for example, if they were given too much force, they could go against the Moon”, recalls Northcutt. “All who were in the room did not breathe, there were no sounds, only from the countdown, and the responsible for communication, we called the spacecraft. Nor did our hearts beat”.

All unemployed. The estimated time elapsed. No news. “Every second they took was really horrible” But one day, “We have gotten it, we have gotten it”, from the spacecraft that was heard. “Listen to your voice”, answered the communication manager. “It was a miracle” recalls Nortchutt.

It was only necessary to return to the ground. And thanks to the work of Northcutt and his colleagues, that was also great. When they saw that the astronauts went out to the sea well, they celebrated it in the control center of the mission. Northcutt was the only woman in the party.

He began to realize that something had to be done so that there were no more women. Years later he began to participate in feminist strikes and in 1974 he held the post of Women's Defender of the Houston City Council. He worked hard. He managed to get more firefighters and police. He managed to eliminate the required height requirement for these positions and accept pants for women's uniforms, since the skirts were mandatory. In addition, she got the women who were raped not to pay for the gynecological exam that was done to prove the violation. And he worked to match wages.

Then he returned to his position as an engineer and took the career of law without ever abandoning the feminist struggle. Still, at the age of 75, it is usual to see it in the demonstrations.



ASTROCHAT (2018): Twitter

ELY, J. (2008): “Frances Northcutt” Houston Public Library

MCNUTT, W. (1970): “

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