– New York, NY
When many think of the Apollo missions, they think of the first men on the Moon and groundbreaking developments in space exploration. Aside from the names that are remembered across the globe, a huge number of people worked tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that the mission was successful. In particular, the female Raytheon employees who wove the Apollo Guidance Computer’s core memory and Navajo women who worked to integrate circuits for the computer have not received proper recognition for their amazing work.
One of NASA’s biggest challenges was creating a portable and efficient computer to manage the spacecraft. They decided to use integrated circuits in the Apollo Guidance Computer, which are more commonly known as microchips. The startup NASA received the microchips from, Fairchild Semiconductor, opened a manufacturing plant in Shiprock, New Mexico, where most of the employees were Navajo women creating the integrated circuits.
In order to create the integrated circuits, pieces of each circuit had to be carefully placed onto tiny chips and expertly connected together using a microscope. These circuits were incredibly difficult to create and required focus, precision, and attention to detail. Despite this, the work was dismissed as “women’s work” and the Navajo women were deprived of adequate recognition and compensation.
The female employees of Raytheon were tasked with assembling the Apollo Guidance Computer’s core memory, another extremely difficult and important process involving metal wires woven by hand. Core memory was an essential part of the storing of Apollo’s computing instructions. This work was so critical that it was tested and inspected repeatedly after it was completed. Many underestimated the importance of these women, also known as “rope mothers,” but their work helped to ensure the safety of the astronauts.
The work of both groups of these incredible women was not recognized in its actuality as difficult and essential work. A NASA report once stated that the computer work was flawless, but did not name or recognize the work of the Navajo and Raytheon women. Despite this, information regarding these women has been recently brought to light through recognition of their work and acknowledgement of its importance. The computer and its software relied on the skilled and technical abilities of thousands of women. Going forward, it is important that we continue to share their stories and learn from their groundbreaking work.
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