“Hidden Figures” of the Gemini Program

Marianne Dyson, December 2017

The first landing on the Moon is often cited as the most historic achievement of the 20th century. With the upcoming 50th anniversaries of the Apollo missions, and the popularity of the book and movie Hidden Figures depicting the contributions of black women during the Mercury Program (1958-63), many people are asking what role women played in Mission Control leading up to and during the Moon missions.

A decade before I wrote my memoir, A Passion for Space, about my experiences working the first Space Shuttle flights, I collected the rosters starting with Gemini 4 (Gemini 3 was controlled from Florida) and talked with other flight controllers to discover the first women assigned technical positions in the Mission Operations Control Room (MOCR).

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. The first woman in a primary position (in the Mission Operations Control Room, MOCR, seen on TV) was Carolyn Huntoon at the Experiments console during Skylab in 1973.

Frances (Poppy) M. Northcutt
Frances (Poppy) M. Northcutt

But there were women working in Mission Control, in the MOCR and support rooms starting with Gemini 8 in March 1966. Who were these pioneering women?

Bond, Allison Bond

The first woman assigned a position in Mission Control at Johnson Space Center was Allison Bond. She worked as an assistant to the Public Affairs Officer (PAO), Paul Haney (1928-2009), for Gemini 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12. I believe the woman in this photo from Gemini 8 is her: https://outlet.historicimages.com/products/rsj01683. (It costs $10 for this image which I will pay if someone can confirm for me that this is indeed Allison Bond!)

This woman worked the PAO console for Skylab in 1974. Could this be Allison Bond or maybe Patricia Santee? Is the guy Doug Ward? This is my photo of a NASA photo.

This woman worked the PAO console for Skylab in 1974. Could this be Allison Bond or maybe Patricia Santee? Is the guy Doug Ward? This is my photo of a NASA photo.

There was also a secretary in the room for Gemini 10 and 11. Her name was Virginia Engle. I suspect she reported to Chris Kraft who was the Flight/Mission Operations Director, the boss of the Flight Directors.

The “Hidden Figures” of Flight Dynamics

Math Aides and Trajectory Specialists

There were also “hidden” women (and men) in the support rooms which surrounded the Mission Operations Control Room. Many of them supported the Flight Dynamics Officer (FDO, pronounced Fi-doh). They were “computers” similar to the women depicted in Hidden Figures, but called Math Aides or Trajectory Specialists. I don’t know of any photos taken of this support room or indeed, of any support room during Gemini.

  • Paulette ?Mayock or ?Mazoch, Gemini 8, 9 (Spelling inconsistent on rosters)
  • Melba Taylor, Gemini 8
  • Mary Ann Richards or Richardson, Gemini 8, 10, 11
  • Lela Steward, Gemini 8
  • Patricia L. Hatchenberg, Gemini 9
  • Sherry or Sherrie Tilson or Tilton, Gemini 9, 10
  • Irene Horsington, Gemini 10
  • Hazel Bryan, Gemini 10
  • Molly Hernsby, Gemini 10, 11
  • Ratha M. Hansen Gemini 11
  • Joyce Landers, Gemini 11, 12
  • Jewell Harwell, Gemini 12
  • Margaret Crawford, Gemini 12

The “Hidden Figures” of Vehicle Systems

Data Support

The Vehicle System Support Room also had women serving as “Data Support” for the Agena (target vehicle for rendezvous) for Gemini 8:

  • Joyce E. Goodrich
  • Connie R. Turner
  • Patricia R. Garza
  • Joella M. English
  • Maureen E. Bowen
  • Gail A. Garrett

The “Hidden Figures” of the Flight Surgeon

Aeromed or Life Systems Support

There were also women in the Flight Surgeon’s Support Room, sometimes referred to as the Aeromed or Life Systems Support Room. I’m not sure if they were nurses or interns. All I could find out so far is that three of them were not MDs.

  • Judith B. Banks, 9, 10, 12, (Not MD)
  • Halley M Bishop, 9, 11
  • Norma Nugent, 9
  • Phyllis A Johnson, 9. 10
  • Bertha Gutlaw, 9
  • Lynda K. Richter, 9, 10. 11
  • Katherine Tindall, 9
  • Netha A Mayberry, 10,11
  • Pat McBride, 12 (not MD, might be a man?)
  • Evelyn Lindquist, 12 (not MD)

This list of women who worked the Gemini missions (1965-66) is certainly incomplete, but it is a start. This Gemini list and similar ones for Apollo, Skylab, Apollo-Soyuz, and the first 25 Shuttle flights are now posted on my website as a publicly-available resource for those interested in women’s space history.

I hope that relatives, co-workers, and researchers can help me add more detail about their contributions. Please visit these pages and let me know if you can help identify women in the photos posted there (see especially the photo of a Skylab team) and contact me with updates, additions, and corrections. I’d especially appreciate knowing the married names of any that are listed under maiden names, and links to obituaries if available. It is about time we recognize the contributions these pioneering women made to our nation’s space program and our collective history.

Writing about Space

To the Moon and Back by Buzz Aldrin with Marianne Dyson and Bruce Foster

Despite Harvey’s disruption to both me and artist Bruce Foster, we have successfully finished our new children’s book with Buzz Aldrin for National Geographic, called To the Moon and Back, in time for it to be produced and available in time for the 50th anniversary of the first manned Apollo flight (Apollo 7 in October 2018). While we anxiously await its arrival in stores, we hope you will continue to support our efforts to promote space by purchasing copies of our other books (such as Welcome to Mars!) as gifts for future astronauts and their teachers.

Speaking about Space

I’m preparing a new presentation for all ages (including a special interactive program for K-2) in support of To the Moon and Back that will celebrate the historic achievements of the Apollo Program and describe current plans to return humans to the Moon. If you’re interested in having me speak on this topic or any of the others on my website (Mars, Women in Mission Control, or a space science workshop), please visit my website and send an email with program and schedule preferences.