Charlie Blackwell-Thompson is NASA’s first female launch director.

“Go for the launch.”

Words like these are often spoken when a rocket is seconds away from heading into space. On Wednesday, after decades of American spaceflight and numerous launches, a woman will say them for NASA.

The Artemis I rocket, now on Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and preparing to launch for the moon on Wednesday, counts down to ignition. The final decision will be in the hands of Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, who has worked in spaceflight for more than 30 years. As the launch director, she’s the boss of the “shooting room” during the countdown, and the buck stops with her.

“Firsts don’t happen often and to be at the start of a program that will bring the first woman and next man to the moon is pretty special,” Ms Blackwell-Thompson told a press conference this summer. “It’s pretty special to me.”

Ms Blackwell-Thompson compared the Apollo and Artemis missions at another press conference. Decades ago, for Apollo 11, there was only one woman in the 450-man firing range, she said. Today, the day of the launch of Artemis I, 30% of the approximately 100 engineers present in the firing room are women.

“There is, without a doubt, a female presence in this framework – both in the leadership of this program and in the areas of operations, as well as in the name of the program itself,” she said. declared. “So certainly the makeup of our workforce has changed over the last 50 years.”

According to NASA, Ms Blackwell-Thompson oversees all planning, training and procedures for the countdown, including developing plans if the countdown should be halted and the launch rescheduled.

On launch day, Ms. Blackwell-Thompson and her team in Firing Room 1 at the Launch Control Center will confirm that the rocket is ready to fly. They will “monitor and control” the rocket carefully before and after ignition, NASA said in a press release. These moments follow several years of preparation.

Ms Blackwell-Thompson graduated from Clemson University in South Carolina with a degree in computer engineering in 1988, according to NASA. She first worked on NASA space shuttle missions as a payload flight software engineer for Boeing, a NASA contractor, and served as lead electrical engineer on several telescope repair missions. Hubble Space. She became a NASA employee in 2004 and holds several patents on spaceflight systems.

On a NASA podcast last year, she described the thrill of entering Firing Room 1 for the first time in 1988 during a visit to Kennedy Space Center during a job interview with Boeing. , and to see the staff preparing the Space Shuttle Discovery for the first mission after the Challengers Catastrophe.

“I wanted to be part of this team. I wanted to earn myself a spot in the room, and I was lucky with time to do that,” she said.

She was named NASA’s first female launch director in January 2016, which set her on a path to lead Firing Room 1 on Wednesday.

Other women have also recently played key roles in space missions. Sarah Gillis, senior space operations engineer for SpaceX, guided four amateur astronauts on their journey to orbit in September.

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