'500 men and me': JoAnn Morgan describes being lone woman in Apollo 11 firing room

JoAnn Morgan was the lone woman in the firing room during the Apollo 11 launch. (WFTV.com)
JoAnn Morgan was the lone woman in the firing room during the Apollo 11 launch. (WFTV.com)

Tuesday marked 50 years since a Saturn V rocket blasted off from the Kennedy Space Center, launching into space a trio who were bound for the moon.

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JoAnn Morgan was the lone woman in the firing room during the Apollo 11 launch.

She sat down with WFTV on Thursday to share her memories of that historic launch.

"The Launch Control Center -- the Firing Room 1 -- is at the north end up there, and that's where we were situated for Apollo 11, the nearly 500 men and me," Morgan said, pointing to the building.

As an instrumentation controller, she was tasked with monitoring readings, tracking incoming information and notifying the proper people of any problems that arose.

"I was involved in the site activation, and just about every place I went ... I'd be the only woman," Morgan said. "Being the only woman wasn't a big deal. What was a big deal for me is, up until Apollo 11, I hadn't been able to actually sit in that control room at liftoff."

Morgan, who had worked for NASA years before the launch, said that early on, she was determined to prove that she belonged.

"On Apollo 1, the test supervisor came down, whacked -- I mean, literally, whacked -- me on the back and said, 'We don't have women here,'" Morgan said. "I called my director, and he said, 'Plug in your headset and go to work.'"

Later that day, a program manager approached her and said she was welcome to work there, she said.

Morgan said her years of experience prepared her for the July 16, 1969, launch.

"My director called me in and said -- he was pretty gleeful -- 'You're going (to) be our person representing all of the information system. You're the information controller. You're the chief today for Apollo 11,'" she said. "And I was real excited about that."

During the launch, Morgan said she was focused not on making history but on monitoring a console and listening to 21 channels of information.

She said it was not until she was watching the moon landing while vacationing with her husband that she realized the program's historical significance.

"We were watching and drinking champagne and saw Neil Armstrong step out (onto) the moon, and my husband said, 'Oh, honey. You're going (to) be in the history books," she said. "That's when it started to sink in."

WFTV showed Morgan several old photographs of her Thursday.

"In this one here, the reason my hand is over my mouth is because of the noise in the firing room," Morgan said while pointing to a photograph. "I was trying to keep it from coming into my mic, because I was trying to get information."

She said "it's just wonderful" that so many women now work for NASA.

"I saw Bob Cabana, the director, yesterday, and he said, 'JoAnn: You'd be proud. Half my senior staff are women,'" Morgan said. "I met Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, the Artemis director -- the first woman launch director. So after 50 years, it's about time."

Morgan went on to become the first female senior executive at the Space Center.

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