Memories of Sole Woman at NASA’s Firing Room for Apollo 11

JoAnn Morgan sat amid the sea of men inside NASA’s firing room at the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral in Florida, for the liftoff of Apollo 11.

She wanted to blend in on July 16, 1969, in her prime-time debut as the first female launch controller.

Morgan, now 78, who began working for NASA in 1958 while in college, typically got the overnight shift before launches. She’d be replaced by a male colleague a few hours before show time.

Occasionally she’d get obscene phone calls at her desk and lewd remarks in the elevator. Unable to seek help at work, she leaned on her husband for support.

As the Apollo 11 mission loomed, Morgan’s boss went to the top to get her on lift-off duty. By then, the harassment had pretty much stopped.

With Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins on their way, her job was done, at least for Apollo 11.

Morgan and her husband Larry, a high school band director, slipped away on vacation and watched the July 20 moon landing on a hotel TV.

Morgan went on to become Kennedy’s first female senior executive. Retired since 2003, she splits her time between Florida and Montana, and encourages young women to study engineering.