Category: history

As an astronaut who has been on a spacewalk before, what does the all-woman spacewalk mean to you?

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The Apollo 11 Command Module “Columbia” is hoisted onto its recovery ship the USS Hornet, following splashdown on July 24, 1969. Credit: NASA

Four days after their historic achievement, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:49 p.m. EDT, about 900 miles from Hawaii. The crew was recovered by the crew of the USS Hornet where President Richard Nixon was waiting to greet them. 

Watch a replay of the original live broadcast of the recovery on NASA TV starting at 12:45 p.m. EDT

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As the world celebrates the 50th anniversary of the historic Moon landing, we remember some of the women whose hard work and ingenuity made it possible. The women featured here represent just a small fraction of the enormous contributions made by women during the Apollo era. 

Margaret Hamilton, Computer Programmer

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Margaret Hamilton led the team that developed the building blocks of software engineering — a term that she coined herself. Her systems approach to the Apollo software development and insistence on rigorous testing was critical to the success of Apollo. In fact, the Apollo guidance software was so robust that no software bugs were found on any crewed Apollo missions, and it was adapted for use in Skylab, the Space Shuttle and the first digital fly-by-wire systems in aircraft.

In this photo, Hamilton stands next to a stack of Apollo Guidance Computer source code. As she noted, “There was no second chance. We all knew that.”

Katherine Johnson, Aerospace Technologist

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As a very young girl, Katherine Johnson loved to count things. She counted everything, from the number of steps she took to get to the road to the number of forks and plates she washed when doing the dishes.

As an adult, Johnson became a “human computer” for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, which in 1958, became NASA. Her calculations were crucial to syncing Apollo’s Lunar Lander with the Moon-orbiting Command and Service Module. “I went to work every day for 33 years happy. Never did I get up and say I don’t want to go to work.“

Judy Sullivan, Biomedical Engineer

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This fabulous flip belongs to biomedical engineer Judy Sullivan, who monitored the vital signs of the Apollo 11 astronauts throughout their spaceflight training via small sensors attached to their bodies. On July 16, 1969, she was the only woman in the suit lab as the team helped Neil Armstrong suit up for launch.

Sullivan appeared on the game show “To Tell the Truth,” in which a celebrity panel had to guess which of the female contestants was a biomedical engineer. Her choice to wear a short, ruffled skirt stumped everyone and won her a $500 prize. In this photo, Sullivan monitors a console during a training exercise for the first lunar landing mission.

Billie Robertson, Mathematician

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Billie Robertson, pictured here in 1972 running a real-time go-no-go simulation for the Apollo 17 mission, originally intended to become a math teacher. Instead, she worked with the Army Ballistic Missile Agency, which later became rolled into NASA. She created the manual for running computer models that were used to simulate launches for the Apollo, Skylab and Apollo Soyuz Test Project programs. 

Robertson regularly visited local schools over the course of her career, empowering young women to pursue careers in STEM and aerospace.

Mary Jackson, Aeronautical Engineer

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In 1958, Mary Jackson became NASA’s first African-American female engineer. Her engineering specialty was the extremely complex field of boundary layer effects on aerospace vehicles at supersonic speeds.

In the 1970s, Jackson helped the students at Hampton’s King Street Community center build their own wind tunnel and use it to conduct experiments. “We have to do something like this to get them interested in science,” she said for the local newspaper. “Sometimes they are not aware of the number of black scientists, and don’t even know of the career opportunities until it is too late.”

Ethel Heinecke Bauer, Aerospace Engineer

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After watching the launch of Sputnik in October 1957, Ethel Heinecke Bauer changed her major to mathematics. Over her 32 years at NASA, she worked at two different centers in mathematics, aerospace engineering, development and more. 

Bauer planned the lunar trajectories for the Apollo program including the ‘free return’ trajectory which allowed for a safe return in the event of a systems failure  — a trajectory used on Apollo 13, as well as the first three Apollo flights to the Moon. In the above photo, Bauer works on trajectories with the help of an orbital model.

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Image Credit: Department of Transportation. U.S. Coast Guard. Office of Public and International Affairs

It was the raw courage of the more than 160,000 Allied troops who stormed an 80-kilometer (50-mile) stretch of heavily fortified beaches in Normandy, France, that made victory on D-Day possible. But without the sound advice of meteorologists and geologists working behind the scenes, one of the most consequential battles in human history could have gone quite differently.

As D-Day neared, the American meteorologists predicted fair weather on June 5 and pushed for invasion, based on a forecasting method that gave great weight to historical weather conditions for a given date and location. The British forecasters took a different approach, focusing instead on analyzing measurements of temperature, pressure, and humidity to try to map out weather fronts. Unlike the Americans, the British teams predicted low clouds and stormy weather on June 5. At the last minute, Captain James Martin Stagg, the highest ranking of the meteorologists, convinced Eisenhower to postpone the invasion.

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NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey

Meanwhile, on the other side of the English Channel, German meteorologists had come to the same conclusion—and then some. Their forecasters had predicted that gale-force winds would arrive on June 5 and persist until mid-June. The Germans were so confident that the Allies would not dare attack that they allowed many soldiers to leave their posts on the beaches and take part in war games in Rennes, France. Field Marshal Erwin Rommel felt comfortable enough to return to Germany to deliver a pair of shoes to his wife as a birthday present.

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Image Credit: Department of Defense. Department of the Army. Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Operations. U.S. Army Audiovisual Center. ca. 1974-5/15/1984  

When the first paratroopers were dropped behind enemy lines around midnight and the first wave of Allied boats began to swarm the beaches at dawn on June 6, the weather was still far from ideal. Cloud cover meant many paratroopers ended up in the wrong locations, and rough seas and high winds made the task of landing boats and unloading tanks a terrible challenge. But by noon the skies cleared, just as the Allied meteorologists had predicted. The Germans, meanwhile, had been caught off guard. That day the Allies endured thousands of causalities, but they established a toehold in France that they would never give up.

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NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey

An enormous amount of scientific expertise went into even the most unscientific of tasks, like rolling a tank up the Normandy beaches. Prior to the invasion, Allied military planners studied nearly one million aerial photographs of the shores of Normandy to find the best landing sites. The aerial photographs would have looked something like the Landsat 8 images shown above. Acquired by the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on July 15, 2018, these image offer a top-down view of the sandy Normandy beaches that were center stage on D-Day.

Read the full story: https://earthobservatory.nasa.gov/images/145143/forecasting-d-day

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