A Monday story in Coming Soon lists NBC’s upcoming slate of new shows starting in the fall of 2014. One of the shows is called “Mission Control.” It is apparently a sitcom about a female NASA rocket scientist dealing with sexism as well as the onerous problems of getting a man on the moon in the 1960s. The network describes the show thus:
“Houston, we have a problem! Dr. Mary Kendricks (Krysten Ritter, ‘Don't Trust the B--- in Apartment 23’) is a tough but brilliant aerospace engineer, leading a team of NASA scientists at the cutting edge of space exploration. The only problem is, this is the 1960s and she's a woman. Navigating the ridiculous boys' club of astronauts and engineering nerds is no easy task, but she's up to the challenge... until her boss brings on Tom (Tommy Dewey, ‘The Mindy Project’) - a former hotshot test pilot and overall man's man - to co-manage her team. It doesn't help that he initially mistakes her for a secretary. Between him, her astronaut boyfriend, Cash, and her offbeat all-guy team, Mary certainly has her hands full... but at the end of the day, they all want the same thing: to get a man on the moon. It might just take a woman to get him there.”
It is something of a cliché that the Apollo program was a largely male operation. There were no female astronauts, for example, during Apollo. NASA did not actively recruit women and minorities until the 1970s.
That doesn’t mean that there weren’t women in some important positions at NASA and its various contractors. The Women in Science blog mentions women such as Frances "Poppy" Northcutt, a member of the flight dynamics support staff in mission control who was the only women there when the Apollo 13 accident happened, something that was missed in the Ron Howard Film. Also mentioned are Larue Burbank, designer of the visual displays used for real-time monitoring of spacecraft, and Dorothy Lee, an engineer who worked on the re-entry heat shields.
In the contracting world, Sara Howard was one of the only two engineers who worked on the first stage of the Saturn V at the NASA Michoud facility. She has published her memoirs “Mischief at Michoud” a light hearted account of her part in the effort to put men on the moon. Ann Dickson, who wanted to be an astronaut, worked for North American Aviation working on test equipment.
One thing that many of the women of Apollo noted that despite the era being what it was concerning women in the workplace, the space program was a little bit more of a meritocracy than most other industries. One reason was likely that there were not that many scientists and engineers capable of doing the work that discrimination could be an option. If women had to be twice as good as their male counterparts, at least they had the opportunity.
Will “Mission Control” work as a look at that era? The need to get laughs aside, the effort to put a man on the moon was a serious, glorious undertaking. We’ll see if the show depicts that aspect as well.