#SeeHer Story airs on PEOPLE.com and @PeopleTV social handles

By Georgia Slater
December 27, 2019 05:00 AM

Poppy Northcutt — the first female engineer in NASA’s control room — pushed boundaries for women in mathematics both on Earth and in space.

Her dedication to the Apollo missions helped to land the first man on the moon and her perseverance to be taken seriously as a woman paved a path for female engineers. That’s why #SeeHer Story has chosen to look back at her extraordinary career in this week’s episode.

The goal of #SeeHer Story, a digital video series from Katie Couric Media and PEOPLE, is to recognize female trailblazers throughout the past 100 years and celebrate how they’ve helped to shape history and culture.

As this year marks the centennial anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, the series hopes to commemorate such an important time for women in history by recognizing fearless women who have made strides for others to follow in their footsteps.

RELATED: #SeeHer Story Pays Homage to the Incredible Life of Mother Teresa in Episode 12

Poppy — born Frances Northcutt in 1943 — grew up in Dayton, Texas where she found a love for mathematics early on.

Ian Showell/Keystone/Getty

She showed tremendous potential in the field, going on to work as a NASA contractor shortly after graduating from the University of Texas in 1965.

Her first assignment as a “computress” was to calculate a safe return to Earth for the Apollo 8 astronauts. But as the first female engineer to take a spot in NASA’s mission control center, she had an even harder task in front of her: to convince the male-dominated room to take her seriously.

“Sexism was like gravity because it was with you 24-7,” she shared in the clip. “One example was hearing some chatter over the headset, about ‘Look at what’s on channel __’ and they’d say some number. So I tuned it in and it turned out it was me. There was a camera that was just focused on me.”

Northcutt worked on several Apollo missions, even helping to land Neil Armstrong on the moon in 1969.

“I was actually in the control center in Apollo 8, 10, 11, 12, and 13. The program that I developed was used on all of the lunar Apollo programs,” she said.

Mario De Biasi/Mondadori via Getty

Following her time with NASA, Northcutt, now 76, used her voice to speak out for other women and became known as Houston’s first “Women’s Advocate.”

RELATED: #SeeHer Story Honors Marie and Irène Curie, Mother-Daughter Medicine Moguls in Episode 11

She pushed for equal pay, as well as opening up Houston’s police and fire departments to women and adding more women’s restrooms.

Her work as a vocal feminist sent her to law school, where she pursued a career in prosecuting domestic violence cases upon her graduation in 1981.

Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

While she is currently semi-retired, Northcutt continues to stand up for what she believes in.

“I see myself as a one-time rocket scientist, a sometime lawyer, and a full-time women’s rights advocate,” she added in the clip.

#SeeHer Story will also be a regular feature in PEOPLE’s print edition, the weekday morning newsletter Wake-Up Call with Katie Couricon PeopleTV’s entertainment show PEOPLE Now as well as on PEOPLE Now Weekend.

Advertisement