In a tweet that has resulted in swift and furious blowback online, The Washington Post chose to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 mission by framing the “giant leap for mankind” as racist and sexist.
“The culture that put men on the moon was intense, fun, family-unfriendly, and mostly white and male,” The Washington Post declared in a tweet promoting an article published in June on “the hard-charging space program” featuring “breakthroughs,” “breakups” and a “breakneck” atmosphere.
“Back then, in the ’60s, rocket scientists were the badass dudes of innovation. Just the title was about the highest brainiac accolade that could be conferred. As in, he’s smart, but he’s no rocket scientist,” begins the piece written by Karen Heller. “As NASA worked relentlessly to fulfill John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon by decade’s end, it turned to the nation’s engineers. Many of them were fresh out of school, running the gamut from mechanical to electrical engineers, because that’s mostly what was taught in universities, and almost exclusively to white men.”
“In archival Apollo 11 photos and footage, it’s a ‘Where’s Waldo?’ exercise to spot a woman or person of color,” Heller writes.
The response to the Post’s tweet on the anniversary of the historic mission has been overwhelmingly negative. Twitchy summarized critcs’ take: “It wouldn’t be a celebration of American ingenuity without the Washington Post finding a way to crap all over it.” A few examples from the flood of mocking responses:
“Toxic masculinity!” wrote one critic. “God damned heroes,” added another. “Just like the WaPo newsroom at the time,” noted another. “Is this satire?” asked one guy. “Have you looked at the moon? It looks white. White bad. Moon bad,” mocked another. “What is wrong with y’all?” asked The Daily Wire’s Josh Hammer.
The Post’s Apollo 11 piece paints the team who put man on the moon as retrograde compared to the rest of the country. “The space program imagined the future. Yet the community of trim haircuts, shaved chins, white shirts (with contractors’ company badges emblazoned on their pockets) and pressed slacks, led by many veterans of World War II, seemed decades removed from the prevalent culture that was shaggier, angrier and sometimes stoned,” writes Heller. For emphasis, she quotes Parrish Nelson Hirasaki, “one of the few female engineers in the space program,” who described the environment as “much more conservative in general than the rest of the country. But not for Texas.”
To drive home the sexually and racially charged point, Heller quotes 96-year-old Ike Rigell, who served as chief engineer and deputy director of launch vehicle operations at the Kennedy Space Center in Central Florida: “I don’t want to be politically incorrect here, but the workforce, the culture, was white male. In the firing room, we had almost 500 people and we have one female, one black guy and one Hispanic. That was the culture.”
Heller goes on to note that women did work on the mission as secretaries and “computresses,” a term that made women “sound like a machine.” About 30% of the computer programmers were women, she writes, including Frances “Poppy” Northcutt, who described the environment as “very engineer-style macho.”
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