Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, first woman to lead a NASA launch

September 03, 2022 05:40

Computer engineer Charlie Blackwell-Thompson decides on the launch of the inaugural mission which is to launch the USA's return program to the Moon.

When, after a few hours of uncertainty, NASA had to resolve to interrupt the countdown last Monday for the firing of the new Space Launch System heavy launcher due to technical problems, it was NASA who decided: Charlie Blackwell-Thompson is the launch director at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, that is to say the person who gives the final "go for launch" which triggers the take-off process of the new American rocket, the keystone of the Artemis program to return to the Moon.

She is the first woman to hold this sensitive position, one of the few publicized positions among NASA ground staff, the other being the position of flight director in Houston, made famous by the iconic Gene Kranz, who distinguished himself by his composure during the aborted mission of Apollo 13. Women now represent 30% of the workforce in the launch room, against only one at the time of Apollo 11. As a reminder, it is also a woman who should first tread the lunar surface again during the Artemis 3 mission, from 2025.

A look by Caroline Kennedy

This tall redhead to whom some lend a look of Caroline Kennedy has been preparing for this moment for more than thirty years, when she obtained her degree in computer engineering at Clemson University in 1988. According to her own words, she started to take an interest into space exploration when she was an elementary school student and watched the Apollo missions on television. The same year, she was hired by aerospace giant Boeing as flight software engineer responsible for integrating the satellites that the space shuttles were to place in orbit.

Her career with the American space agency really began in 2004, when she was hired as responsible for tests within the "launch and landing" division of the shuttle program. She then held several positions, including that of chief electrical engineer for several maintenance missions for the Hubble Space Telescope. In 2016, she was appointed launch director for Artemis.

There is no room for error: the first three shots of the SLS were valued at more than 4 billion dollars each.

In the same room where the Apollo 11 mission took place in July 1969 at the Kennedy Center, this mother of three, who has already received numerous awards during her career, supervises a team of a few hundred engineers, flanked by a second support team in an adjacent room. All these brains constantly scrutinize the screens with all the parameters of the mission. In this context, for nearly two days, his role is to direct and coordinate the dozens of support teams deployed across the United States and involved in the countdown to the launch process, which must conclude with takeoff. of the rocket and its flight to the Moon. The right to error is not allowed: the first three firings of the SLS were valued at more than $4 billion eachfor a total Artemis budget of $93 billion from its launch in 2012 through 2025.

CV Express

  • Diploma computer engineer in 1988 at Clemson University, near where she was born and raised, in Gaffney, South Carolina.
  • Directly started his career at Boeing as payload flight software engineer.
  • In 2004, she joins NASA as test director in the "launch and landing" division.
  • In 2016, Charlie Blackwell-Thompson was appointed launch director du programme Exploration Ground Systems de la Nasa.