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Meet JoAnn Morgan: the only woman inside the control room for Apollo 11

We are all familiar with Apollo 11 and the world’s first manned lunar mission back in 1969. It was a historic moment for the world and a victory for the United States, as the space race with Russia created a fervor of science-based competition that we haven’t seen since.

A lot of us have seen Hollywood’s portrayal of our astronauts on the moon, punctuated with the nervous faces at mission control, holding their breath in hopes that everyone makes it home safe. But there’s more to learn here about this historic time and about the people who helped make this mission possible. A fluids engineer who goes by Megan H at Blue Origin tweeted the story of a remarkable woman who not only helped NASA put the first people on the moon but also helped thwart Russian meddling.

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I know. Russian meddling is everywhere, right?

She starts off by pointing out a female character in the new Apollo 11 documentary (which is worth seeing, by the way).

In a sea of white males we see a lonely female, blending into the crowd. Anyone who sees her likely wonders who she is. Women working in STEM in the 1960s and 1970s were pioneers, so it goes without saying that her story should probably be told. Megan H is on it.

We learn that at 28 years old she was rather accomplished.

Among men who seem almost to be in uniform, JoAnn sits just days before the historic day. Having been promoted to senior staff, she’s earned the right to be there.

https://twitter.com/megsylhydrazine/status/1133599255367569408

JoAnn gave a wonderful interview, giving us an inside peek at what it was like for her working in a male-dominated field (which is what a lot of us women might still know a bit about).

In pure Russian fashion, they extended themselves to try and interfere with our efforts in an attempt to keep us from successfully beating them to the moon. Knowing what we know now about official Russian methods, this doesn’t come as too much of a surprise. It’s more surprising that Russia has such a long history of trying to cut our brakes when we aren’t looking and we still try to deny it happening today. Back to JoAnn:

(A trawler is a commercial fishing boat guys)

International waters, or the ‘high seas’, do not fall under any country’s jurisdiction, known under the doctrine of Mare liberum. Everyone has the right to fishing, navigation, overflight, and scientific research. Basically, NASA’s hands were tied.

As you can guess, we don’t see a woman climbing the ranks of NASA in this era easily. This one went right to the top:

JoAnn went through a lot of the trials we see the women in the movie Hidden Figures go through. NASA was so entrenched in a masculine identity, they didn’t even have proper facilities for women near work areas:

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You will find other instances of sexism that she had to overcome – your usual flavor of sexual harassment coupled with the belief that she wasn’t as deserving or as smart as her peers (spoiler alert: she was).

Once JoAnn’s job was done, she was able to watch like the rest of America. She watched with her husband – who had no fear of smart or strong women (his sister was a scientist as well) – and celebrated being part of such a historic project:

 

After the moon landing, JoAnn enjoyed a long and fruitful career with NASA:

45 YEARS with NASA, she witnessed some truly wonderful things about space travel come to fruition.

It’s always a pleasure reading about women trailblazers in STEM. Without them leading the way and breaking down stereotypes, women like Dr. Bouman, who helped create the first image of a black hole, and Dr. Freese, who is pioneering research about dark matter, would have a much harder go at fulfilling their potential.

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