First woman in NASA Mission Control in Victoria for IMAX movie launch

WatchGround-breaking woman who helped put men on the movie helps launch new Apollo 11 IMAX movie in Victoria. Tess van Straaten sits down with Poppy Northcutt to find out what it was like being the first woman in NASA Mission Control.

It’s one of the most pivotal moments in our history.

And now, 50 years after the Apollo 11 mission that saw men walk on the moon, the historic lunar landing is on the big screen screen at IMAX Victoria with never-before-seen 70 mm archival footage.

“You will be so immersed you’ll feel like you’re there, at launch,” says former rocket scientist Poppy Northcutt.

Northcutt would know — she was the first woman to work in NASA Mission Control.

“By the time I was working in mission control, I was experienced and accustomed to being the first and only woman in the room,” Northcutt says.

As a return-to-earth specialist for the Apollo 8, 10,11, 12 and 13 missions, it was Northcutt’s job to compute the rocket’s return to earth with every orbit.

“For me, the maneuvers when they were behind the moon were the most tense,” Northcutt says. “And that’s because you have no communication.”

She was just 25 years old when she worked on Apollo 11 and she says most people are shocked to learn just how tiny the astronaut’s on-board computer was.

“You just can’t even imagine how little computer power they had,” Northcutt explains. “Those little greeting cards you can buy and you can say ‘hi mom’ and record a message, they have more computing power.”

A math major in university, Northcutt’s first job when she joined the space race was as a ‘computress’ — a title reflective of the rampant sexism at the time.

“That was a woman’s job,” Northcutt says with a laugh. “We were thought of as little human calculators I guess. It was a sea of sexism. That was situation normal, it was like gravity.”

Northcutt started speaking out about women’s rights as she continued to break down barriers.

Her team received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for the rescue of Apollo 13 and she was even working on potential Mars missions five decades ago.

“At that time, I expected in 10 years we’d be doing Mars missions,” says Northcutt. “The last thing I expected is we’d be hitchhiking literally to the space station.”

The critically acclaimed documentary “Apollo 11: First Steps Edition” is now playing at IMAX Victoria.

Tess van StraatenTess van Straaten

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