The Atlantic

The Apollo Engineer Who Almost Wasn’t Allowed in the Control Room

JoAnn Morgan stood out against the sea of men in skinny ties and glasses. But she was right where she belonged.
Source: Joan Wong / Images courtesy of NASA

Editor’s Note: This article is part of a series reflecting on the Apollo 11 mission, 50 years later.

With seconds left in the countdown, JoAnn Morgan knew there was no turning back.

Oh, we’re really going to do it, she thought to herself. We’re really going. The United States was about to launch three men to the moon, and Morgan, an instrumentation controller at NASA, had a front-row seat: the launch-control room at Kennedy Space Center, where dozens of engineers guided the rocket carrying the Apollo 11 crew toward space.

Morgan worked on the Apollo program as an engineer, checking and testing various ground systems required to prepare the rockets for takeoff. Each time, she had to leave the launch-control room about a half hour before liftoff and watch the launch from somewhere else. This was the 1960s; most of the NASA workforce was male and white, and women were not allowed to be at the controls.

But on launch day, a sweltering Wednesday in July, she was there. She was 28 at the time, and the

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