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The Artemis Project Continues the Work of Apollo – and the Women Who Contributed to It

by Matt Engel
YY Clark

Season 3 of Lost Women of Science traces the life and work of YY Clark, also nicknamed “The First Lady of Engineering” for her many breakthroughs in the field of mechanical engineering as a Black woman. Among the projects that benefitted from her troubleshooting was Project Apollo, where she contributed to designs for the engine of the Saturn V rocket – the rocket that landed astronauts on the moon – and the moon rock box, which made it possible for those astronauts to bring home lunar samples. You can learn about her work in detail in Episode 3, out today.

Now, 50 years after Apollo, NASA is attempting another, similar feat.

Apollo 11 Saturn V rocket launches on July 16, 1969, from the Kennedy Space Center.
(Photo credit: NASA)

The Artemis Program

In Greek mythology, Artemis is the goddess of the hunt, daughter of Zeus and sister of Apollo. In space travel today, the Artemis program is the successor to the Apollo program, aiming to put humans on the moon for the first time since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. The first uncrewed launch for the program has been delayed several times, and will now likely take place in November 2022. By 2025, the goal is for a human crew to touch down on the moon’s south polar region and conduct a number of studies, including searching for signs of water.


While there is still much progress to be made, the space industry of today is much different from the agency that first launched astronauts to the moon over half a century ago. In 1972, just 16 percent of NASA’s permanent workforce were women and fewer than five percent were listed as minorities. For those watching the moon landings on their television screens, the most recognized and celebrated figures were male—astronauts such as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. While we now understand that those missions would not have been possible without the brilliance and hard work of Margaret Hamilton, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and of course, Yvonne Young Clark, it would be decades before those women were given their due credit.

Fast forward to 2022, and the number of women on NASA’s permanent workforce has more than doubled, to just under 35 percent. The space industry as a whole has become much more inclusive to women, and particularly those in leadership roles, such as Gwynne Shotwell and Leanne Caret, the respective presidents of SpaceX and Boeing Defense, Space & Security.

The team of 18 astronauts selected to participate in the Artemis moon landing program. (Photo Credit: Mark Felix, Getty Images)

When it comes to Artemis, the mission will give women the opportunity to gain the same glory that Armstrong and Aldrin had decades before. NASA says the Artemis crew will include the first woman and the first person of color to land on the moon. Whether that history-making woman will be Christina Koch, Jessica Meir or Stephanie Wilson – a few of the contenders – is not yet known, but what is guaranteed is that women will not be watching the launch from the sidelines.

Continuing YY Clark’s Legacy

As attention turns to the many women in the running for the moon landing, it is important to remember how innovations by women in the past, during an era where they were clearly not given proper credit, have helped pave the way for Artemis. 

YY Clark grew up during a time where her high school denied her the opportunity to take a mechanical drawing class because of her gender, and she often had to be a trailblazer everywhere she went. Yet her work at NASA is still paying dividends today. 

So as the world is just a few years away from another moon landing, with a woman finally being given the opportunity to set foot on the lunar surface, everyone should remember that this is not the first major accomplishment by a woman in the space exploration program. Women have been key contributors for decades, and are only just now approaching an equal share of the glory.


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