Judy Sullivan

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Judy Sullivan
Biomedical Engineer Judy Sullivan during training for the Apollo 11 mission.
Judy Sullivan shown at the console in the Kennedy Space Center's Manned Spacecraft Operations Building she would operate during the Apollo 11 mission as she monitored the medical condition of the astronauts.[1][2]
Judy Shanaberger

1943 (age 75–76)[3]
OccupationBiomedical Engineer
Known forWork on Apollo 11

Judy Sullivan (born 1943) is an American retired biomedical engineer[1] who worked for NASA during the Apollo 11, Apollo 10, Apollo 9, Apollo 8 and Gemini 12 missions.[3] For the Apollo 9 and Apollo 11 missions, she was lead biomedical engineer.[1][3] Sullivan was the only woman in her department, and one of only a relative few women working for NASA in a technical role at that time.[1][3] She was the first woman engineer hired by NASA for spacecraft testing.[4]

Education and early career[edit]

Sullivan (then Shanaberger) attended Jacksonville State College in Alabama, having been valedictorian of her high school class, also in Alabama. She majored in biology, and minored in chemistry and math. She decided she wanted to study math and science after she heard a speech by president John F. Kennedy in which he encouraged more scholars to study engineering, science, and math.[5] Sullivan graduated second in her class at college.[3] She has said that she would have preferred to go to medical school, but did not have the money.[3] After graduating from college, Sullivan started her career as a high-school math and science teacher in Cocoa Beach, Florida.[3][4] In 1966 she applied for employment at NASA, and was hired as an aerospace technologist and engineer.[3]

Career with NASA[edit]

Sullivan was not recruited by NASA or even applying for a full-time job, but first applied for a summer job with NASA.[5] Sullivan was hired at NASA in 1966 as the first woman engineer in Spacecraft Operations.[6] In the 1960s, 17 percent of the staff at NASA were women, and most of those women were secretaries.[7] She was the lead biomedical engineer for the Apollo 11 mission and was the only woman to help Neil Armstrong in the suit lab before launch.[8] Sullivan was in the control room for the 1969 launch, keeping track of the biomedical systems[9]; while she could not see the launch, Sullivan commented on the event "My seat rumbled and you knew something powerful was going on".[3]

As a biomedical engineer, Sullivan was responsible for maintaining the medical telemetry devices worn by the astronauts, and monitoring the telemetry from those instruments prior to and during the launch process.[4] Sullivan would check the functioning of the medical telemetry instruments shortly after they were attached to the astronauts during the suit-up process.[4] Later in the flight, responsibility for that telemetry was shifted to the Houston center.[4]

Sullivan was quoted in a news story of the time as saying:

The astronauts wear our sensors which are attached to their bodies during major spacecraft tests and during flight. These sensors monitor their heart beat, take electrocardiograms, and monitor respiration rates and depths.

During spacecraft testing and live launches at KSC, a resident doctor and I, as biomed engineer, sit at the consoles and monitor the biomedical data coming from the spacecraft.

The doctor evaluates the crewman's physical condition, and I, the performance of the biomedical system.[4]

Sullivan notes that hers was the only female voice on the voice channels, so if she made any error, everyone would know who was responsible, while a male voice might not be recognized.[3][4][10]

Sullivan did not have an engineering degree,[3] but NASA policy at that time allowed her to be so classified based on her college record. Graduating in the top 20% of one's class with a program heavy in math permitted a job title of "Engineer".[10]

Later life[edit]

After Apollo 11 Sullivan moved to Ithaca, New York with her husband Marshall Sullivan and taught middle school while her husband attended Cornell. The couple later moved their family to Pennsylvania, where she worked as a teacher and a food technologist for Kraft.[11] Today Sullivan is proud of her accomplishments with NASA and continues to encourage young women to go into the fields of science, math, and engineering.[3][12]

On July 19, 2019 Our Daily Planet declared Sullivan its "Hero of the Week" for her role at NASA and for her encouragement of young women to pursue careers in technology and science.[13]

Personal life[edit]

While in training for NASA at St Louis, Missouri, Sullivan (then Shanaberger) met Marshall Sullivan, and the two began dating.[3] Some months later he was transferred to Florida and they were married.[3] After the Apollo 11 mission, he entered an MBA program at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. She resumed teaching. Later they moved to the Lehigh Valley area in Pennsylvania where they raised a family.[3]

Acting career[edit]

Sullivan was respected at NASA for her work with the Apollo 11 spacecraft, but after that mission they parted ways. After NASA, Sullivan's only son moved out and she started to experience empty nest syndrome.[14] Sullivan explored modeling, meeting with the Philadelphia Casting Company, but decided not to pursue it as a career after shooting one commercial. [11] She had a first lead role in a film about a soldier in Vietnam who finds a doctor's diary.[14]


  1. ^ a b c d "Judy Sullivan, Lead Engineer for the Apollo 11 Biomedical System". NASA. NASA. July 9, 2019. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  2. ^ Werner, Debra (July–August 2019). "Women reflect on Apollo". Areospace America. Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Palochko, Jacqueline (July 15, 2019). "50 years after mission accomplished, Lower Macungie woman talks about her role as Apollo 11 biomedical engineer". The Morning Call (Florida). Retrieved October 8, 2019.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Benedict, Joy (July 8, 1969). "A Girl Engineer for NASA". Florida Today. p. 1D. Retrieved October 18, 2019.
  5. ^ a b America, Good Morning. "Former NASA engineer shares what it was like working on Apollo 11 as a woman". Good Morning America. Retrieved November 5, 2019.
  6. ^ Patrinos, Thalia (July 7, 2019). "Judy Sullivan, Lead Engineer for the Apollo 11 Biomedical System". NASA. Retrieved October 16, 2019.
  7. ^ Werner, Debra (July 2019). "Women Reflect on Apollo". Aerospace America. Retrieved October 16, 2019.
  8. ^ Salam, Maya (July 23, 2019). "Five Women Who Made the Moon Landing Possible". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved October 16, 2019.
  9. ^ Loff, Sarah (April 17, 2015). "Apollo 11 Mission Overview". NASA. Retrieved November 5, 2019.
  10. ^ a b "Lady Engineer Keeps Tabs on Astronauts". Miami Herald. June 29, 1969. p. G4. Retrieved October 18, 2019.
  11. ^ a b Reich, Ronni (April 3, 2008). "WHO GOT THE PART?". Proquest. Retrieved October 22, 2019.
  12. ^ Tang, Elisa (July 18, 2019). "Former NASA engineer shares what it was like working on Apollo 11 as a woman". Good Morning America. Retrieved October 10, 2019.
  13. ^ "Hero of the Week: Judy Sullivan". Our Daily Planet. July 19, 2019. Retrieved October 18, 2019.
  14. ^ a b Reich, Ronni (April 24, 2003). "Judy Sullivan". Bigale. Archived from the original on October 22, 2019. Retrieved November 5, 2019.

Further reading[edit]