NASA’s First Female Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson Breaks Barriers

By Lucy Broadbent
on 18 November 2022

When Charlie Blackwell-Thompson launched the rocket Artemis 1 into space this week, she was breaking more than just sound barriers, she was shattering barriers for all women.   

Fifty-three years ago, when Apollo 11 went into space there was only one woman among 450 men employed in NASA’s firing room. Today, 30 percent of the approximately 100 engineers are women. 

neil armstrong
Apollo 11 was the American spaceflight that first landed humans on the Moon. Commander Neil Armstrong and lunar module pilot Buzz Aldrin landed the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle on July 20, 1969 – Pixabay at Pexels

And Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, who has worked in spaceflight for more than 30 years, is the first woman to be Launch Director, and the first woman to say the words “Go for launch.”

“The harder we climb, the more beautiful the view,” she said in a small speech after lift-off, becoming a beacon of inspiration for women and girls in the field of science and engineering everywhere.

NASA Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson
NASA Launch Director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson

The 322 foot-tall, unmanned Artemis 1 rocket, the most powerful ever built for NASA, is the first in a series of missions intended to establish a presence on and around the moon. 

If all goes well during Artemis 1’s three-week flight, the rocket will propel an empty crew capsule into a wide orbit around the moon before returning to Earth with a splashdown in the Pacific in December, setting the stage for further missions and the first woman to step foot on the moon.

Pixabay at Pexels

Thirty-four years ago, Blackwell-Thompson, a young computer engineering graduate from Clemson University in South Carolina, walked into Firing Room 1 at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for a job interview.  She was awestruck.  “I wanted to be a part of that team. I wanted to earn myself a seat in the room, and I was lucky enough over time, to do that,” she says.

Since then, she has worked on numerous space shuttle missions, and was a lead electrical engineer on multiple Hubble Space Telescope repair missions, finally getting the job as NASA’s first female Launch Director in January 2016.

Pixabay at Pexels

“Firsts don’t come along that often and to be at the beginning of a program that is going to take the first woman and the next man back to the Moon is pretty special,” she says.

“There is, without a doubt, a female presence as part of this — in both the leadership of this program and the operations areas, as well as the name of the program itself.” 

Artemis was the Greek goddess of nature and the moon.   

Click here to listen to Blackwell-Thompson talk on NASA’s podcast.


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