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Deborah Tsogbe SM ’23: “I’m standing in front of the exhibit Sisters in Making: Prototyping and the Feminine Resilience, which I curated along with Soala Ajienka, a current student at MIT. 

“The work that’s part of this exhibition is the culmination of research and prototyping work I did as a 2023 Women@MIT fellow with MIT’s Distinctive Collections. I’d never heard before about how women built—by hand—the computer used for the Apollo 11 mission, and I wanted to do my part to bring their efforts to light. 

“The exhibit features original photos of the women and includes a visualization of the number of women over a 37-year period who were instrumental in MIT’s space race efforts. It also includes a physical prototype that I built of core rope memory that stores the names of 20 women who were integral to the Apollo 11 launch in 1969, along with accompanying documentation of that prototype.

“I think the exhibit illustrates the hidden labor often done by women, that they’ve been relegated to, because socially feminized traits are often perfect for detailed, precision work—small, nimble hands, detail-oriented, caring.  

“I’m very proud of what we were able to display, and most proud that I was able to re-create a physical prototype of core rope memory, just because without seeing the intricacy of analog technology like that, it’s hard to imagine the magnitude of such a thing. I hope people walk away from the exhibition with a deeper understanding of the type of efforts it takes to make something like the Apollo launch happen, and I hope they don’t forget who originally made it happen.

“As a recent graduate, it was nice to come back for this project because I got to really appreciate the community here. I think my time at MIT was kind of a whirlwind; I’m not sure I took it all in properly. Being back for a bit kind of feels like officially closing the chapter, much more consciously this time around.”

Deborah Tsogbe lives in Cambridge and is currently doing freelance work in the area.