First woman in release control helps put a man on the moon


But one woman stood out – JoAnn Morgan, 28.

Morgan, who worked as an instrumentation controller for the mission, was the only woman allowed inside the shooting room where NASA officials were locked up during the historic take-off of Apollo 11 on July 16, 1969.

Morgan needed to be in the room to warn the test team if something went wrong. But she needed to get special permission to be there.

"My information systems director called me and said," You're our best communicator. We'll have you on the console, "she said. "But then I found out that he had to convince the director of the center, Dr. Kurt Debus, that everything would be all right."

You can see never-before-seen footage of Morgan in CNN Films' "Apollo 11" documentary. She inspired a generation of women – but her path was not always easy.

There are no bathrooms for women

As the first engineer at Cape Canaveral, Morgan recalled being "immersed in the world of a man, where all around me were men."

This fact became quite apparent at certain times.

"Many of the buildings I worked in did not have women's restrooms," she said.

Just like the women in the movie "Hidden Pictures," Morgan had to go to another building or use the men's bathroom.

"Sometimes, during the tests, the guard was great." He came over and said, "Do you need a little break? I'm going to police the men's room."

Morgan said the guys tried not to notice. "If I had to go, I had to go!" she said with a laugh.

Obscene calls and & # 39; go-ons & # 39;

Being the only woman also meant dealing with sexism and fights from time to time.

"When I started at Blockhouse 34, the test supervisor came and literally hit me in the back." He said, "We do not have women here." And I thought "Uh oh." So I called my director. .. and phone calls were made, "she said. "That same day, the big man in charge of the Apollo program at the Kennedy Space Center came down … and he said," JoAnn, you're welcome to work here. Do not worry about anything anyone says. " "

When Morgan started working in the shooting room, she also received some obscene phone calls.

"Once, when one of them showed up, I hung up the phone, and one of the station's downstairs TV operators came in and said," Is there something wrong? "Is there anything wrong? said: "Yes." He said: "The look on your face. Was there a death in the family? "I said," No, an obscene phone call. "

"But I never let myself feel like an object, I was not going to be an object, I just had too much courage in myself to let it be any kind of hindrance."

Roy Tharpe sat next to Morgan in the shooting room as the main test support controller for Apollo 11.

"You could never pull anything on her because she would take it and cut you to pieces," Tharpe recalled. "She was extremely competent."

As a child, she preferred sets of chemistry to dolls

Growing up, Morgan was an early child of World War II. She jumped the first grade and read all the books in the primary school library. Her favorite gift from her father was a chemistry set.

"I blew up the yard and cracked the concrete, but he did not mess up." He just said, "How did you do it?", She reminded him.

"She was very, very smart," said Jean Helms, her younger sister. "She had everything – beauty and brain."

At 17, Morgan was selected to work as a trainee at the US Army's Ballistic Missile Agency.

"The great thing was the ad said – student." Because if I said "boys," I would not have applied, "she recalled.

She had moxie

At Cape Canaveral, she kept up with the guys, Morgan's colleague Roy Tharpe said, although there were some who did not want her there.

"There were some men and we counseled our men," Tharpe said. "But there was no doubt about it. She had the courage to take the position of being the only woman in the Apollo 11 shooting room."

After Apollo 11, Morgan's career took off. From 1958 to 2003, she continued to break down barriers and became the first senior executive at the Kennedy Space Center.

"When you looked at JoAnn and how she worked in politics and how she did things, she had greatness," said Tharpe.

Suzy Cunningham, who works as a strategy and integration manager at NASA, used to work for Morgan.

"She was a champion for me. JoAnn is a huge glass ceiling break for all the women at the Kennedy Space Center," she said. "She's a great inspiration for all of us to say," you can do it ".

"I am very proud that we have moved away from being very pale, very masculine and very old," Tharpe said. "Because JoAnn brought girls who were very smart, and they got on well. I know she can look in the mirror and smile (and say)" Yes, I did it ".

Now 78, Morgan is retiring and splits his time between Florida and Montana.

But that was not always his plan. There was a time when she wanted to spend her golden years on Mars.

"I thought they should have a geriatric program. If that happened 15 years ago, I would have been a volunteer."

When she sees the moon shining on the lake behind her Montana home, it's hard not to smile when she thinks of everything that's accomplished.

"I was able to help put 12 people to walk on that moon, and I love telling everyone about it too."


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