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SWE Women - Johnson

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johnson.jpg Barbara Crawford Johnson

Barbara "Bobbie" Johnson was a women pioneer in the defining years of the U.S. missile and space program. Graduating in 1946 as the first woman graduate in general engineering from the University of Illinois, Johnson immediately began work in the field of aerospace engineering. In her 36 year career at Rockwell International Space Division, she made significant contributions to four of the nation's most prominent systems and technology ventures.

Early assignments involved design and research projects that included flight dynamics studies for programs such as Dyna-Soar, the recovery of hypersonic gliders, lunar reentry vehicle research, and orbital rendezvous. In five short years Johnson moved up from Mathematician to Senior Engineer, Aerodynamics, where she participated in the design and development of the Navaho missile, one of the country's first missile efforts. Johnson then worked on another major missile project, the Hound Dog air-to-ground guided missile as project leader responsible for wind tunnel programs, performance and stability analysis, and aerodynamic loads.

It was the Apollo Lunar Landing Program that began Barbara Johnson's participation in manned space flight programs and defined her expertise in atmospheric entry, which garnered her widespread recognition. When she was named as manager of Mission Requirements and Evaluation on the Apollo Program in 1968 it was the highest post ever held by a woman in her division. Responsible for more than 100 engineers, Johnson worked closely with NASA on the Lunar Landing, Skylab, and Apollo-Soyuz (joint USA-USSR) programs. She received a medallion in 1973 from NASA in recognition of the major role she played in the Apollo 11 mission, mankind's first successful attempt to land on the moon.

In her last position before retirement in 1982, Johnson was Manager of Mission Requirements and Integration of the space shuttle program where she was responsible for Shuttle system and Orbiter Project mission-related analysis. It was during this time that she received the American Astronautical Society's "Dick Brower Award," the Institute for the Advancement of Engineering's Outstanding Engineer Merit Award for contributions to aeronautical engineering, the University of Illinois College of Engineering's Distinguished Alumni Merit Award, and the 1974 SWE Achievement Award.

A Fellow of the Institute for the Advancement of Engineering, an Associate Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and SWE Fellow, Barbara Johnson served both locally and nationally to promote engineering as a career, especially for women.

View video clips from Barbara Crawford Johnson's oral history interview.

Read the transcript from Barbara Crawford Johnson's oral history interview.

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