Fifty years after the first moonwalk took place, some of the behind-the-scenes people who made it happen are finally being recognized. This includes a group of women working for International Laytex Corporation (ILC) — now Playtex — who stopped sewing girdles long enough to assist NASA in making a spacesuit that could mean the difference between life and death for an astronaut.
In the story aired on CBS’ 60 Minutes, the seamstresses at ILC are praised for their agility and precision. They were chosen for the project after the manufacturers who were typically government vendors came up with prototypes that were too stiff and bulky.
The spacesuits made by the women at ILC were described as “mini space crafts.” If the suit didn’t hold together, the astronaut inside could “blow up” or “burn up.” Made of layers of gossamer-thin fabric, sewn to a precise tolerance of 1/64th of an inch, the suits did hold up.
CBS News also highlighted three other women who played key roles in the Apollo mission to the moon in 1969. Joann Morgan had the assignment of “listening to communications for problems” and was “the only woman inside the firing room for the launch of the Saturn V rocket.”
Margaret Hamilton and her team at MIT were responsible for alerting the astronauts to any problems.
Poppy Northcutt, the only woman inside Mission Control, calculated the maneuvers that would bring those astronauts home. In the CBS segment, Poppy acknowledges that, at times, she felt like she was viewed as a novelty. “But it was also an opportunity I felt to encourage other women to go into science and technology and understand that women could do these jobs.”