“The saying ‘The world is yours to conquer’ is no longer true,” explained SWE Past President Beatrice Hicks at the U.S. Air Force’s Space Symposium for Women in September 1962. “Yours is the universe.” Just a few months prior, Hicks had received a patent for a gas density switch that was an integral part of the Saturn V rockets that propelled spacecraft into the heavens and women into the engineering workforce.
The U.S. space program created employment opportunities where few had existed before for women. Future SWE president Lt. Col. Arminta Harness became the chief of program control for the Gemini Target Vehicle Program at U.S. Air Force Space Systems. Ivy Hooks, hired as an aerospace technologist at the NASA Manned Spacecraft Center in 1963, modeled the lighting on the moon to assist the anticipated lunar landing. When not teaching at Tennessee State University, Yvonne Young Clark, P.E., spent many of her summers in the 1960s working with NASA, inspecting Saturn V booster engines for hot spots and designing containers to bring lunar rock samples back to Earth. As manager of reliability, maintainability, and safety engineering at Westinghouse Defense and Electronic Systems, another future president of SWE, Naomi McAfee, led the team that designed cameras that transmitted back to Earth the video footage of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon. And Barbara Crawford Johnson, engineering supervisor of Rockwell International’s entry performance unit and 1974 SWE Achievement Award recipient, ensured the Apollo 11 crew returned safely, by leading analyses for trajectory designs and spacecraft performance when returning to Earth.
As their careers progressed, each of the women — Harness, Hooks, Clark, McAfee, and Johnson — also became a SWE Fellow.
“It was wonderful to be a part of it,” Harness reminisced in her 2003 Profiles of SWE Pioneers oral history interview. “And when it finally settled into kind of a routine, you felt lost … You missed that adrenaline shot every once in a while.”
– Troy Eller English, SWE Archivist
Learn more about the experiences of SWE’s lunar ladies in their oral history interviews available here.