We Have Liftoff!

By Courtney Fowler, Director of Communications and Marketing

Pioneering computer scientist (and current Lovett grandmother) Jane Woolley, a female coder who wrote programming for the actual liftoff sequence of Apollo 11, spoke to Lovett sixth graders last Friday about her role in landing the first NASA astronauts on the moon. Her presentation was timely, as it occurred during Computer Science Education Week, an annual grassroots effort organized by Code.org. 

Woolley herself wrote three important programs while working in Hunstville, Alabama, for The Boeing Company, which was tasked with developing critical software for Stage 1 liftoff of the Apollo 11 mission: tower clearance, wind effects and 30-degree roll. At that time, there were only 12 females out of the hundreds of computer programmers in total who worked at Boeing as part of the Apollo program. Of the women, Woolley was the only coder to write programming for the actual launch of the spacecraft, while the other female commercial programmers wrote software to analyze data. 

As part of the presentation, the sixth graders got to hear audio recordings of President Kennedy’s request to Congress in 1961 for funding to go to the moon as well as audio of the liftoff on July 20, 1969, during which two of her three programs (tower clearance and 30-degree roll to exit the atmosphere) were called out by NASA’s Mission Control. 

Woolley, who went on to a long and successful career in IT, told the students that math was certainly important, but science, foreign languages and even her time on the high school basketball team were critical to developing the skills needed to be part of the historic Apollo effort. Woolley is the grandmother of seventh-grader Virginia Jane Hultgren.
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