It took 400,000 people to put Apollo 11’s Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the moon a half-century ago. That massive workforce stretched across the U.S. and included engineers, scientists, mechanics, technicians, pilots, divers, seamstresses, secretaries and more who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to achieve those first lunar footsteps.
Some of them will be taking part in festivities this week to mark the 50th anniversary.
One of them will beJoAnn Morgan, made famous in the movie “Hidden Figures.” Amid the sea of white shirts, black ties and pocket protectors inside NASA’s firing room for the liftoff of Apollo 11 sat JoAnn Morgan.
July 16, 1969 was her prime-time debut as the first female launch controller. It wasn’t easy getting there. Morgan, 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 showtime.
“The rub came on being there at liftoff,” she recalled.
And there was the taunting. She’d get obscene phone calls at her desk at Kennedy Space Center and lewd remarks in the elevator. The situation was even more strained next door at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The old launch-pad blockhouses there had a single restroom — for men. So Morgan found herself dashing to a nearby building for a women’s restroom, just as portrayed in “Hidden Figures,” the 2016 hit movie.
As Apollo 11 loomed, Morgan’s boss went to the top to get her on liftoff duty.
By then, the harassment had pretty much stopped. While NASA’s countdown clocks ticked toward a 9:32 a.m. launch, Morgan monitored ground instrumentation, everything from fire and lightning detectors to guidance computer data. When the official firing room photo was later taken — showing Morgan with her left hand raised to her chin — she was listening to Vice President Spiro Agnew address the team after the launch.
With Armstrong, 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.
As they toasted the first lunar footsteps, he told her, “Honey, you’re going to be in the history books.”