The Only Woman in the Launch Room

Apollo 11 50th Anniversary

In this July 16, 1969 photo provided by NASA, JoAnn Morgan watches from the launch firing room during the launch of Apollo 11 in Cape Canaveral, Fla. Morgan, who worked on the Apollo 11 mission in 1969, went on to become the Kennedy Space Center's first female senior executive. She retired in 2003. (NASA via AP)

I love a good personal story of courage and overcoming adversity. A good example is that of JoAnn Morgan who was the only woman in the launch room for Apollo 11.

“I look at that picture of the firing room where I’m the only woman. And I hope all the pictures now that show people working on the missions to the Moon and onto Mars, in rooms like Mission Control or Launch Control or wherever — that there will always be several women. I hope that photos like the ones I’m in don’t exist anymore.”

My mother instilled in all of the kids that you should strive to be whatever you wanted to be and that applied equally to my three sisters as it did to me. When more women wanted to enter technical fields, that only seemed right to me.

While it’s true that very few women and minorities were involved with the Apollo program, what is missing is the overall context of the times.

In 1945 a whole lot of men returned from fighting in WWII. They needed to continue their education and they needed to get back to life. And they needed jobs. This was the priority through the 1950s and during that period a woman “taking a man’s job” was very controversial. It is difficult today to fathom the emotion around fighting for your country and then potentially missing out on a job because it went to a women. Additionally, the economy was very strong at the time and women didn’t “need to work.”

This all seems very arcane but at the time it made perfectly good sense.

Before someone jumps down my throat and says that women played a significant role in WWII, my mother was in the Coast Guard so I’m well aware. Minorities also played a key role. Hopefully I’ve covered everyone.

My preference is to look at positive historical events in a positive light and not through the lens of how it might have been better. It simply is what it is — that’s why it’s history. The entire Apollo program had massively good results of which one was hugely increasing the interest in science and engineering. I’m a product of that era as were many people that created the computer revolution that has so changed our lives.

Since the end of WWII, the country has relatively been at peace at least in terms of the impact on the population from a large number of soldiers returning home. That and a growing economy made it possible for anyone to follow any career they wished and have the life they wished. Yes, of course, there were hurdles for women and minorities to overcome but that’s history as well. Some of these hurdles were quite significant and we shouldn’t devalue them either.

To look at history though the lens of how it might have been different if the same standards of today applied is just simply wrong since if that happened, history itself would be changed. We used to call this science fiction. Today we sometimes try to diminish the accomplishments of the past by applying the social norms of today.

I prefer to take history for what it is and see how it helped create positive societal changes rather than discounting historical events through a filter of how we view society today.

“It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.”
― George Harrison

“One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present.”
― Golda Meir, My Life

Mark Rosneck

Written by Mark Rosneck

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