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Space trailblazer coming to Batemans Bay to tell her story

By Ian Campbell 17 September 2018 0
In the Firing Room at NASA's Kennedy Space Center on July 16, 1969, following the successful liftoff of Apollo 11. In the center of the photograph is JoAnn Morgan, the only woman engineer among scores of male counterparts. Photo: NASA.

In the Firing Room at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on July 16, 1969, following the successful lift-off of Apollo 11. In the centre of the photograph is JoAnn Morgan, the only woman engineer among scores of male counterparts. Photo: NASA.

“That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” where were you when Neil Armstrong uttered those words on the surface of the moon in 1969?

JoAnn Morgan was in the Firing Room at NASA, the only woman, and she is coming to Batemans Bay to share the experience and much more from her stellar career.

Denhams Beach local and volunteer with the Batemans Bay Writers Festival, Julie Stuart is the link helping to make this happen, organising what will be Ms Morgan’s first ever speaking engagement in Australia.

“Batemans Bay is a long way from the moon, and what a fantastic opportunity this will be, JoAnn has seen so much,” Mrs Stuart says.

“One of the great mysteries of life is space and JoAnn has had a front-row seat.”

A house swap in Florida and a serendipitous phone call first connected the two women.

“We got talking and I said, ‘do you ever come to Australia?’ and JoAnn said ‘if I do I’ll get in touch with you’,” Mrs Stuart explains.

“Fast forward and I get an email that says she is coming to the Kimberly, in Western Australia and she would be happy to make a visit to the other side of Australia to do a fundraiser for the Batemans Bay Writers Festival.”

"A Conversation with JoAnn Morgan" will happen on Wednesday, September 19, 5 pm, Batemans Bay Soldiers Club. Photo: Supplied.

“A Conversation with JoAnn Morgan” will happen on Wednesday, September 19, 5 pm, Batemans Bay Soldiers Club. Photo: Supplied.

Now 77 years old, Ms Morgan is an aerospace engineer and was the associate deputy director at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

NASA’s Linda Herridge says Ms Morgan is a trailblazer of the US Space Flight Program.

“Morgan began her space career in summer 1958, at the young age of 17, as a student intern with the U.S. Army Ballistic Missile Agency at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. She was the first female engineer at Kennedy and the only woman, among a sea of men, who was present in the firing room during NASA’s Saturn V/Apollo 11 launch to the Moon,” Ms Herridge writes.

“In the early days of her 40-plus-year career with NASA, she had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects. She developed algorithms for a Mars trajectory, worked in the Vehicle Assembly Building and helped develop the space shuttle launch processing system central data subsystem. She also worked on site activation for the Launch Control Center firing room consoles.”

Ms Morgan says, “Kennedy Space Center had an environment that allowed women to thrive.”

“There were no dull days. I learned something from every experience.”

Speaking earlier this year at a Women’s History Month Event at the Kennedy Space Center, Ms Morgan said she had supervisors who were very supportive of her efforts. She says one of her personal credos is the word “ARE,” which stands for Acceptance, Respect, and Equality.

Female representation within the NASA workforce has steadily risen since 1969 when Ms Morgan was the only woman in a sea of men.

In the 1980s, NASA reports that 21.5 per cent of its civil servants at Kennedy were women. In 2018, the space agency says women make up 32.6 per cent of the centre’s total workforce.

“She has had the most remarkable career, she never got into space herself but she has had innumerable experiences over five decades with NASA,” Mrs Stuart says.

“When man landed on the moon she was in charge of the rocket taking off from earth, her words ‘set for launch’ are part of history.”

Apollo 11 blasts into space headed for the moon, July 16 1969. JoAnn Morgan helped it happen. Photo: NASA.

Apollo 11 blasts into space headed for the moon, July 16 1969. JoAnn Morgan helped it happen. Photo: NASA.

“A Conversation with JoAnn Morgan” will happen on Wednesday, September 19 at 5 pm at Batemans Bay Soldiers Club.  Ticket are $20 and available via TryBooking before Tuesday, September 18.

*This story first appeared on About Regional

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