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Meet A Rocket Woman, The Rocket Women of Apollo

The Rocket Women of Apollo: JoAnn Morgan, Instrumentation Controller, NASA

28 July, 2019

JoAnn Morgan,  Instrumentation Controller, Apollo 11 [Credit: Apollo 11 documentary still, NASA]

JoAnn Morgan, Instrumentation Controller, Apollo 11 [Credit: Apollo 11 documentary still, NASA]

Fifty years ago in July 1969, humanity took it’s first steps on the surface of another planetary body. As Neil Armstrong stepped onto the Moon on 20th July 1969, a team of Rocket Women at NASA were breaking through the glass ceiling to support this historic accomplishment, achieving their own personal firsts for women globally and paving the way for women in science and engineering today.

Rocket Women are thrilled to be featuring the stories of these trailblazing women in a new series: The Rocket Women of Apollo, in collaboration with Megan Harrington.  On watching the 2019 Apollo 11 documentary, Megan was struck by seeing an image of a lone woman working in the firing room during an Apollo launch. This sparked an extensive research exercise which Megan reveals for Rocket Women here:

I finally got to watch the ‘Apollo 11’ documentary [1] and was curious who this was…

In the first three minutes of the documentary, she’s featured front and centre, focused on her work with the same steely-eyed gaze of her peers. It was my impression that there were no women in these types of roles back then (or so I thought). When I started the documentary, I was expecting to see high definition detail of similar scenes: lots of engineers in crisp white shirts with skinny black ties, and the daring astronauts getting to explore a new world. It’s a proud moment in history. But you usually don’t see women as supporting technical personnel in these historic scenes. And this documentary kicks things off featuring a woman sitting alongside (what appears to be) a large group of prominent technical personnel.

Who is she? A writer from Vanity Fair, David Kamp, wondered the same thing, and he went to find out [2].

A glimpse of her is seen in this documentary, but that is only the beginning of her story…

Her name is JoAnn Morgan, and she was the only woman inside the control room for the historic Apollo 11 launch.

Who is she?

Her name is JoAnn Morgan, and she was the only woman inside the control room for the historic Apollo 11 launch. 

KSC Firing Room 1 for Apollo 11, post-launch. Credit: NASA [3].

KSC Firing Room 1 for Apollo 11, post-launch. Credit: NASA [3].

At the time, JoAnn was a 28-year-old instrumentation controller and she was the first woman permitted to be inside the firing room during an Apollo launch. Today, this is what JoAnn is most known for. But her career at NASA spanned over 45 years, and she broke ceiling after ceiling for women involved with the space program.

In addition to being the first woman at NASA to win a Sloan Fellowship, she was the first woman division chief, the first woman senior executive at Kennedy Space Center (KSC), the first woman associate director for KSC, the first woman director of Safety and Mission Assurance…and the list goes on. [3]

She was a trailblazer among trailblazers. 

And I knew nothing about her. So, I posted a thread on Twitter to highlight her role and share any neat facts I could find along the way [4]. Spoiler alert: there were a lot of interesting finds. It grew into a bigger thread than originally planned, and I had some great questions to chase down. This post stitches the story together, and shares additional insight thanks to several contributors. 

How did she get there? 

As a child, JoAnn (Hardin) was a self-described “precocious little kid.” She loved math, science and especially music – so much that she was convinced she would grow up to become a piano teacher. [3]

She skipped the first grade and read all the books in her Huntsville elementary school library. According to CNN, she preferred science experiments and reading Jules Verne over dolls, and her favorite gift was a chemistry set from her dad. [5][6]

“I liked astronomy and field trips to the planetarium, and I loved science fiction,” she recalled. “I always liked experimenting. In the fourth grade I got a chemistry set. I built bombs and blew them up on the patio.” [6]

Chemistry was her dad’s major in college. When he was in the military, he was in ordnance. So, bombs and rockets were commonplace to him. “I was sort of the ringleader of the kids in my neighborhood [who were] experimenting with things,” said JoAnn. One day she mixed some chemicals in a tin can and stuck it between two steps leading to her family’s patio. “The last thing I added was what made it combustible, and I knew it,” she says. “

It wasn’t supposed to go airborne, but bits and pieces did, and it wound up cracking the patio. Our housekeeper kept telling me, ‘You’re gonna be in trouble!’ But when my parents came home – and this was typical of my mother and father – they didn’t fuss at me. My dad said, ‘My goodness, how impressive! Look at that big ol’ crack in our patio!’ They never made me feel hesitant about trying things. Even when my sister and I tried cooking and it didn’t go well, they would always reward us for trying, and being adventurous and experimenting. They taught [us] to clean up [our] mess, but [we] didn’t get punished if there was collateral damage.” [7]

JoAnn’s father, Don Hardin, was a pilot in the Army Air Corps during World War II, and her mother, Laverne Hardin, was a statistician during the war [6]. Her dad later supported the US Army’s rocket program, which included a move to Titusville, Florida which happened when JoAnn was a junior in high school. [8]

With the new environment came rocket launches. She and her friends enjoyed watching the launches, but it wasn’t until the day that Explorer 1 had launched that JoAnn’s interest took a pivotal turn. [3]

Explorer 1 was the first satellite to launch from the United States (Jan 31, 1958), and it was instrumental in discovering (what is now known as) the Van Allen radiation belt. The Explorer 1 instrumentation reacted to (what appeared to be) radiation. Thus, Dr. James Van Allen theorized that charged particles were “trapped” in space by Earth’s magnetic field. [3]

It was this discovery that inspired JoAnn to be a part of the space program. [3]

Van Allen Radiation Belts [Credit: NASA]

Van Allen Radiation Belts [Credit: NASA]

She thought, “This is profound knowledge that concerns everyone on our planet.” She was attracted to the concept of new knowledge, and the opportunity for new knowledge. As if an awareness came over her, she realized that “this is going to change the world I live in. And I want to be a part of it.” [3] [9]

An opportunity surfaced for JoAnn when she went to the post office in Titusville. On one side of the door was an FBI’s Most Wanted poster, and on the other side was a small bulletin board that said “Government Jobs.”

On the board was an ad from the Army seeking two “Engineer Aides,” which would be available to two college students over the summer. “The best thing about that ad was that it said ‘students.’ It didn’t say ‘boy’ or ‘girl’.” So it didn’t cross JoAnn’s mind that she potentially couldn’t apply. So she did. [9]

With a strength in math and science, JoAnn was awarded the internship with the Army Ballistic Missile Agency at the age of 17. From there, things moved pretty quickly: she graduated from high school on the weekend, went to work for the Army on Monday, and worked her first launch by Friday night. [3]

On her first launch, she got to use a device similar to a telescope to help track the vehicle and assess whether the rocket’s two stages separated properly. [7]

The program JoAnn was supporting was quickly rolled into a brand-new space exploration agency that was forged in response to Soviet advancements (hint: “beep, beep, beep”). The new agency was called the ‘National Aeronautics and Space Administration’ (NASA), established in 1958. 

That year, JoAnn enrolled in the Electrical Engineering program at the University of Florida, with a full academic scholarship. Ultimately, she chose to stay for only three years. “Their engineering program was five years,” she says, “and I didn’t want to be in school that long. I wanted to get out and go to work for NASA. Plus, my sister had transferred to Jacksonville State, and she wanted me to go with her. I stayed there long enough to get a math degree, and I was gone. I didn’t even go to graduation. I headed straight to Cape Canaveral!” [7]

As JoAnn worked in the summers for NASA, and during the school year chipped away at a Bachelor of Arts in Mathematics from Jacksonville State University, her potential didn’t go unnoticed.

Dr. Kurt Debus (left) and Dr. Wernher von Braun (right). Credit: NASA.

Dr. Kurt Debus (left) and Dr. Wernher von Braun (right). Credit: NASA.

Dr. Wernher von Braun, chief architect of the Saturn V rocket, along with members of his team recognized the level at which Morgan could contribute to the human spaceflight program. [3]

Dr. Kurt Debus, the first director of KSC, looked at Morgan’s coursework and saw that she had experience writing technical papers, working with data systems, and building computer components (which were not as ubiquitous as they are today.) He provided Morgan with a pathway to certification. A couple of courses later, and JoAnn was certified as a ‘Measurement and Instrumentation Engineer’ and a ‘Data Systems Engineer,’ and she was employed as a Junior Engineer on their team. [3]

“It was just meant to be for me to be in the launching business,” she says. “I’ve got rocket fuel in my blood.” [3]

And from all appearances, that was the perfect summation. Morgan was a talented mathematician, a fantastic communicator and a bona fide engineer. [3]

What was her role in Apollo 11?

At the time of Apollo 11, JoAnn had recently advanced from junior-level controller to a senior-level [2], holding the title of ‘Chief Instrumentation Controller, KSC Technical Support’ [10]. In this position, she earned a seat in the firing room for launch.

Firing Room [Credit: NASA]

Launch Control Room [Credit: NASA]

The ‘firing room’ is another name for the launch control room, and it’s where all personnel were locked-in 20 minutes before liftoff. Why were they locked in? The intent was to eliminate distractions, and allow the team to focus their attention on the countdown. [11]

To get a sense of scale of the firing room, it seated 450 critical personnel, which included technicians, engineers, test conductors, and launch directors. [12]

JoAnn was seated in Area A, Row D, Position #15, here:

LCC Firing Room Positions [Credit NASA Alumni League Florida Chapter [10]]

LCC Firing Room Positions [Credit NASA Alumni League Florida Chapter [10]]

 As Chief Instrumentation Controller for KSC, JoAnn was primarily focused on the guidance computers at the Central Instrumentation Facility (CIF), but she was also responsible for the lightning-detection and fire-detection systems at the launchpad, the operational communications and TV systems, and monitoring the command carrier for any interference. [2]

“Interference” meaning a ship or submarine trying to get on the frequency that NASA was using to send commands to the vehicle. [2]

Wait, what? This happened? Oh, yeah, it happened…

“On Apollo 8, the Russians were offshore with a trawler and submarine,” said JoAnn told Vanity Fair in 2018. “They tried interfering with our transfer of command. They would try to block frequencies so we couldn’t give commands to the pad and the capsule. And it continued some on Apollo 9 and 10.” [2]

”What we had to do is put different antennas on and direct them differently so we could block them from interfering with our command process,” said Morgan. [2]
One of the things NASA had found during early Apollo missions was that when the astronauts would speak, their transmissions would cut out – not completely – but they were unexpectedly “garbled.” With the intricate communications system NASA had, there was no reason that should be happening. So the question was: what was causing it? Initially, they had no idea.

Using their tracking systems, they were able to identify Russian submarines in the area. It was International waters, so the US couldn’t keep them out of there. Given the space race, jamming NASA’s systems certainly would’ve been in Russia’s best interests. So, NASA had to take countermeasures: just before Apollo 11, NASA installed a gigantic surveillance dish on top of Kennedy Space Center’s tallest building to pinpoint the source of any foreign interference. [13] That did the trick, and Apollo 11 launch communications went smoothly. For more technical info on this topic, check out the ‘Apollo Experience Report’ on “S-Band System Signal Design and Analysis” (NASA TN D-6723) [14].

Going full circle, as Chief Instrumentation Controller for KSC, JoAnn helped monitor the command carrier for any foreign interference, which helped Apollo 11 launch without any communications interruptions.

LCC [Credit: Apollo 11 (2019), NASA]

LCC [Credit: Apollo 11 (2019), NASA]

How did others react to her?

While JoAnn was a talented engineer, it didn’t stop prejudice, especially in the sixties.

When she was hired to join the team, JoAnn found out later from colleagues that a meeting was called for everyone on the team…except her. [3]

The room filled and JoAnn’s supervisor, Jim White, explained to the team: [3]

“This is a young lady who wants to be an engineer. You’re to treat her like an engineer. But she’s not your buddy. You call her Ms. Hardin. You’re not to be familiar.”

“Well, can we ask her to make coffee?” someone asked.

“No,” White said. “You don’t ask an engineer to make coffee.”

White wanted to make it perfectly clear to the team: Morgan was a serious engineer, and her being a woman did nothing to affect that. [3]

However, this wasn’t how it always played out.

“I got obscene phone calls on my console a couple of times, and I would just report those to the communications people.” There was one time in particular, that she slammed the phone down after one of those calls. One of the TV operators noticed, from the station downstairs. So, he came up and asked, “Is something wrong?! The look on your face. Has there been a death in the family?” To which JoAnn replied “No, an obscene phone call.” But she never let herself feel like an object. “I was not going to be an object. I just had too much fearlessness in me to let that be any kind of deterrent,” JoAnn told CNN. [5]

Roy Tharpe sat next to Morgan in the firing room as the chief test support controller for Apollo 11. He said to CNN, “You could never pull anything over on her because she would take and cut you to pieces. She was extremely competent.” [5]

This came with practice though.

Even after being a regular in the firing room, JoAnn was being watched on camera by men from Florida to Texas. The firing room had a camera so mission personnel in remote locations could see launch control and follow along with activity. Before an Apollo 8 test, someone would call and bring some report to the data room (which was back behind the firing room).

So, JoAnn would have to get up, run and get the report, and then get back to her console. Eventually, one of the TV technicians called JoAnn and said, “Mrs. Morgan, I feel obliged to tell you this. When you get up and go out, there are some guys who call and ask me to zoom in on you as you walk out. And they say you sure have a good-looking rear end.” [7]

JoAnn thanked the TV technician and told him he needed to share that with his boss. “What if the media got hold of this?” She thought. “Or worse, what if my dad or husband found out? They would beat the tar out of them.” [7]

So, JoAnn started minimizing her time out of her chair. “All these things were just a nuisance. They didn’t enrage me. They just kept me from getting my work done, and I loved my work. I wanted to be 100 percent correct. I was so focused, that when these little twiddly things would come up, it would be like a crab pinching you – just something little to deal with. But I never let it deter me from my mission, which was working for NASA.” [7]

“The worst was, in the old blockhouses, there was no ladies’ restroom, so either the security guard had to clear the men’s room, or I had to walk, just like the ladies in Hidden Figures, to a different building to use the bathroom,” JoAnn told Vanity Fair. [2]

“You have to realize that everywhere I went – if I went to a procedure review, if I went to a post-test critique, almost every single part of my daily work – I’d be the only woman in the room.” [3]

“Sometimes during tests, the guard was just great,” Morgan said. He’d come over and say “You need a little break? I’ll police the men’s room.” The guys tried not to notice. “If I had to go, I had to go!” She said with a laugh to CNN. [5]

If you’re curious what the old blockhouse restrooms looked like, Julia Bergeron shared these photos on Twitter for reference [15]:

Also, if you don’t know what a “blockhouse” is: it’s a concrete-reinforced, domed building that protected personnel from a potential explosion (because they were typically located fairly close to the launchpad). During a launch, it could accommodate 130 people, as well as test and instrumentation equipment. Periscopes afforded views outside the windowless facility. [16]

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket is erected on the pad at Space Launch Complex 37 in preparation for the Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) mission. EFT-1 will be the first flight test of NASA's Orion spacecraft. Photo Credit: Matthew Travis / Zero-G News

A United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket is erected on the pad at Space Launch Complex 37 in preparation for the Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) mission. EFT-1 will be the first flight test of NASA’s Orion spacecraft. Photo Credit: Matthew Travis / Zero-G News

This is what the LC-34 blockhouse looked like on the inside:

A packed LC-34 Blockhouse, which included Dr. Wernher von Braun and Dr. Kurt Debus. Credit: NASA

A packed LC-34 Blockhouse, which included Dr. Wernher von Braun and Dr. Kurt Debus. Credit: NASA

It was in one of these blockhouses that JoAnn had one of her more striking interactions.

When JoAnn first started in Blockhouse 34, she came in to get test results from a Saturn IB rocket (which would later support Apollo 1). The acting test supervisor saw her come in, sit down, and go to plug in her headset. He came over and whacked her on the back saying, “We don’t have women working in here,” with a gruff look on his face. So she immediately called her director, Karl Sendler (who had ordered the test results in the first place). Sendler replied, “Oh, don’t listen to him! Plug in your headset and get those test results to me as soon as you can.” [3] [9]

The test director was apparently new to NASA from the Navy, didn’t know who JoAnn was, and was unaware that women supported these roles at NASA. [7]

In response to the treatment of Morgan, others came forward to make it known that JoAnn was accepted.

Rocco Petrone, who presided over the development of the Saturn V launch vehicle and operations, came over later that day and tapped Morgan on the shoulder and said “JoAnn, you are welcome here. Don’t worry about what anything anybody says.” [3] [9]

Rocco Petrone in the Launch Control Center (Apollo 9) Credit: NASA.

Rocco Petrone in the Launch Control Center (Apollo 9) Credit: NASA.

It did happen again though, in another blockhouse, and JoAnn was told, “We don’t have women working in here,” by another test supervisor. But JoAnn got to a point where she was “fearless” and she ignored it, sat down, and did what she was sent there to do: her job. [9]

She held her own with the guys, and JoAnn garnered the support of her peers. But that didn’t stop the media from giving her their opinion.

JoAnn tells Vanity Fair, “One time, we had finished prop load after Apollo 9 or 10, and NASA allowed the media in. They would go down each row. I’ll never forget, one of the rudest remarks I ever got was from one of the photographers. He said, “I wish you could let her go out and put on some lipstick. [2]

Despite the challenges, JoAnn soared passed it with a passion that overrode anything else – the lonely moments, the little bits of negative. “They were like a mosquito bite. You just swat it and push on.” [2]

JoAnn Morgan, Instrumentation Controller, Apollo 11 [Credit: Apollo 11 documentary still, NASA]

JoAnn Morgan, Instrumentation Controller, Apollo 11 [Credit: Apollo 11 documentary still, NASA]

While her support system was growing at work, there was always one person by her side from the beginning: her husband.

At work, JoAnn would get a variety of come-ons as she tells Vanity Fair, ranging from “Oh, can you go to coffee with me?” to “Oh, you never get to see your husband.” But JoAnn’s husband was a great support system. This was especially true in the timeframe between Apollo 8 and Apollo 13. Those five or six years were very intense for Morgan, working 12 to 16 hours a day. There were even times when JoAnn and her husband would basically pass on the street. [2]

That workload was relentless. And in 1967, while trying to help get the Apollo program off the ground, Morgan collapsed in an elevator at KSC. She was pregnant and began hemorrhaging. And as she prefers to say now, that’s the day she and Larry became “parents of an angel.” She miscarried. “I’m sure it was partly due to stress,” she says. “It was one of those pregnancies where I was working right up to the day I lost the baby. They got me to the hospital, but it was too late.” During the summer of 1969, she had worked twenty-eight straight days prior to the launch of Apollo 11. [7]

Her husband, Larry Van Morgan, was a high-school math and science teacher (and bandmaster), and his older sister was a laser physicist. He wasn’t afraid of smart women. And the science stuff didn’t baffle him because he’d been on an aircraft carrier in the Navy. “If I hadn’t had the right kind of husband, that I could come home to and vent and say, ‘Oh, this yahoo in the elevator said…,’ and he’d say, ‘You have to rise above that, JoAnn. You’re doing something important.’ He really encouraged and helped me through.” JoAnn interviewed by Vanity Fair in 2018. [2]

Were there any personal barriers she had to overcome?

When JoAnn started working at the Cape, she brought the independent spirit that her parents had encouraged, but also, the manners of a typical Southern girl in the 1940’s and 1950’s. She said, “Yes, ma’am,” and “No, ma’am,” spoke only when spoken to in the presence of grownups, and obeyed the old creed, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” [7]

That’s the one barrier of her upbringing that she had to overcome in the workplace. And she learned this very early on. [7]

During one of the first summers at the Cape, one of the missile tracking stations had been hit by lightning. JoAnn was tasked with assessing the damage, and determining the path of the lightning. One of the affected areas was a telephone pole outside of the equipment trailer, which had antennas and cables running up and down the pole. JoAnn had to go up the pole and trace the lightning right into the equipment, make an inventory of damaged hardware, and figure out how much it was going to cost to replace the burned or melted hardware. [7]

She did all of that, wrote up her report and gave it to her boss, Jim White. They took that to a meeting with eighteen or twenty people – one of them being a lightning expert that came down from Marshall Spaceflight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville. [7]

“I never said a word during the meeting,” said JoAnn. [7]

Afterward, her boss was furious with JoAnn and said, “You’re the only person who saw it. Speak up!” [7]

JoAnn’s response was, “If they had asked me, I would’ve told them.” [7]

But nobody asked. JoAnn was still a teenager at the time, and – as she was taught – she politely waited to speak until spoken to. “I had to be taught by my boss to forget all that Southern training. He said, ‘When you’ve seen something with your own eyes, it’s your obligation to speak up. That’s your job.’” [7]

That lecture paid off when Morgan was assigned to Sendler’s instrumentation team.

Getting on console for Apollo 11 launch

Even though JoAnn worked all through the Mercury and Gemini programs, and supported all the Apollo launches as a junior controller, Morgan still wasn’t permitted in the firing room at liftoff. Up to this point, she would support the stressful pre-launch operations (like propellant load), and would be excused from the firing room prior to launch. Why? Because women weren’t permitted in the firing room once everyone was locked in. That is, not until Apollo 11. [2] [3] [9]

For Apollo 11, JoAnn’s supervisor spoke with KSC’s Director of Information Systems, Karl Sendler. He said, “I want to put JoAnn on console for liftoff. She’s my best communicator. I get clear information about how things are going. She’s also very disciplined.” Sendler agreed, and then paused, “But we’ve never had her locked in there.” Indeed, having JoAnn locked in the firing room as the only – and first – woman was breaking new ground. It was a change in tradition. So, Sendler ran the request up higher to the KSC Center Director, Dr. Kurt Debus, who approved without hesitation, JoAnn tells Vanity Fair. [2]

When Sendler called JoAnn into his office, he shared the good news: “You’re going to be on the console for Apollo 11!”

The fact that Karl Sendler “went to bat” for her was a pivotal moment for JoAnn in her career. But also, because it said to everyone else: “She’s one of us. She’s part of the team. And she gets to be here to enjoy this part of the countdown and launch.” [9]

An added bonus for JoAnn on Apollo 11 was the fact that JoAnn wouldn’t have to work the night shift (3pm to 3am). For the first time, she would get off work at 3 in the afternoon and spend time with her husband, who she rarely got to see. “I was just thrilled,” she says. “My life was coming together. I would get to be there for the launch, feel the shockwave hit, and then I [would be going] on vacation!” [3]

What were her highlights of Apollo 11?

“Sometimes I say to people, ‘Hey, my biggest decision was: What can I wear so that I don’t stand out like a sore thumb?’ I knew that there was still hostility from some men about having a woman be part of the launch team, but I had been there for years. I had gotten out of college in ’62.

So I wanted to be part of that team, and to blend in. I was a newlywed, and I said to my husband, ‘I don’t know what I should wear.’ And he said, ‘Well, you went to Florida, you’re a Florida Gator, you’ve got that great dress I bought you.’ It was a Lacoste with the little alligator on the chest. Of course, nobody noticed that tiny little gator, but it was a navy dress, and my husband had been in the navy. He always liked me in navy.” JoAnn Morgan tells Vanity Fair in 2018. [2]

JoAnn Morgan on-console [Credit: NASA]

JoAnn Morgan on-console [Credit: NASA]

Oh yeah, and remember the featured shot from the Apollo 11 documentary (below)?

JoAnn Morgan [Image Credit: Apollo 11 documentary (2019), NASA]

JoAnn Morgan [Image Credit: Apollo 11 documentary (2019), NASA]

JoAnn remembers that close-up. It was in a scheduling meeting for Apollo 11 and she vividly remembers that videographer being there. Why? Because cameras weren’t allowed in these meetings where controlled information was being discussed. For Apollo 11, an exception was made to let a camera in to document the historic events, but it was very controlled. And they most certainly weren’t supposed to do close-ups of anyone. So when this one got up close to JoAnn’s face, she said, “Oh boy, I rolled my eyes at him,” being singled out in the moment. [9]

To be the instrumentation controller in the launch room for the Apollo 11 liftoff was a big deal. For JoAnn, to be there for that pivotal point in history was ground-breaking: “It was very validating. It absolutely made my career.” [3]

Perhaps one of the best parts of being there for the Apollo 11 launch was finally being able to ‘feel’ the launch – the rumbling, the building shuddering, the windows rattling, and the shockwave. Up until then, Morgan had always been at a telemetry station, or a display room, or an upper antennae site for launch, and would have to hear from other people about what the launch felt like. For Apollo 11, JoAnn finally had the chance to experience that for herself. [3]

Did she get to see the launch?

In the space business, everyone is very disciplined and focused. If you’re supporting on console for launch, you couldn’t just stop, stand up, and watch the launch. JoAnn had to listen to 21 channels of information, plus monitoring a bunch of displays that the supervisors wanted up for the team to see. So she could feel the launch before seeing much of it. However, JoAnn did get a “peep” of the Saturn V launch from between the louvres on the firing room windows. But she certainly felt the launch; she had her elbow on the chair, and she felt the rumbling at her console. [9]

Apollo 11 mission launch from KSC on July 16, 1969. Credit: NASA.

Apollo 11 mission launch from KSC on July 16, 1969. Credit: NASA.

Morgan enjoyed the Apollo 11 launch from the firing room starting roughly 3 hours prior to countdown, and she stayed there all the way through translunar injection phase (which is the last critical event that launch control supported). In between these events were VIP guests coming in to give remarks, including Vice President Spiro Agnew and President Richard Nixon. This is when the below historic photo was taken, roughly an hour after launch. [2] [9]

KSC Firing Room 1 for Apollo 11, post-launch. Credit: NASA [3].

KSC Firing Room 1 for Apollo 11, post-launch. Credit: NASA [3].

Note: it was pointed out that there are other women in the photo, along the wall in the back, but that’s because the picture was taken nearly an hour after the launch, by which point some back-room staff members were allowed in to hear the speakers. [2]

After the successful launch, JoAnn continued to be one of the busiest in the launch control room for the following two hours. While others started departing their consoles about thirty minutes after the launch, JoAnn had to get damage reports in (e.g., how the systems performed on the ground, how much time it would take to get ready for the next launch, etc.). JoAnn’s team was looking for any off-nominal conditions, like scorched cables that would need to be replaced, any lost communication boxes, or if a lightning antenna blew away.” [7]

After the successful launch, “Several people congratulated me and after launch, the test supervisor – who happened to be [the same one from] Blockhouse 34 – came down and gave me a cigar when he was handing out cigars,” shared JoAnn. [17]

She walked out [of the firing room] that day with Apollo Astronauts Deke Slayton and Alan Shepard, who were about to board a jet for the Manned Spaceflight Center in Houston. [7]

As for the Apollo 11 lunar landing, JoAnn’s job was considered complete.

Launch marks the beginning of the mission. But after the first couple of critical events that the launch team is devoted to (which includes launch through translunar injection), the Mission Control team in Houston takes over. [3]

So, JoAnn and her husband took a boat out to Longboat Key and watched the lunar landing on TV with champagne in hand. After watching the landing, her husband reached over and said, “Hon, you’re gonna be in the history books.” [2]

Credit: Apollo 11 (2019), NASA

Credit: Apollo 11 (2019), NASA

What came after Apollo 11?

After Apollo 11, JoAnn’s career blasted off.

JoAnn continued her success at Kennedy Space Center, and went on to complete a Master of Science in Management at Stanford in 1977 on a Sloan Fellowship. [3]

The Sloan Research Fellowships are awarded annually by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation “to provide support and recognition to early-career scientists and scholars,” and is one of the oldest programs of its kind in the US [18]. JoAnn was the first woman at NASA to win a Sloan Fellowship. [3]

When she returned to NASA two years later, she was promoted to Chief of the Computer Systems Division at KSC.

This was in the late seventies, when the agency was transitioning from using the old, giant computers to using many smaller computers. The change was supplemented with the fact that she was the first woman to have that role: “So, people were having to change and adapt to me and the new technology. So that was a lot to choke on for some people! A double whammy!” [3]

JoAnn Morgan working in the Computer Systems Division at KSC, Credit: NASA [3].

JoAnn Morgan working in the Computer Systems Division at KSC, Credit: NASA [3].

From there, Morgan excelled in many other roles, including Deputy of Expendable Launch Vehicles, Director of Payload Projects Management, and Director of Safety and Mission Assurance. [3]

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

She was one of the last two people who verified that the Space Shuttle was ready to launch. [3]

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

And she was the first woman at KSC to serve in an executive position (as Associate Director of KSC). [3]

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

But what excited JoAnn the most about her contributions was the same thing that inspired her to join the space program in the first place: the scientific discoveries. [3]

“My last mission was those two little plucky Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity. That was a lot of fun – getting people to understand there’s a whole future out there, there’s a whole wealth of knowledge NASA can achieve.” [3]

JoAnn served as Director of External Relations and Business Development during her final years at KSC, with a brief stint in 2002 when she was appointed as acting Deputy Director of KSC for several months. [8]

JoAnn Morgan studies posters of space-related news stories in the mobile exhibition when she was the associate director for Advanced Development and Shuttle Upgrades at KSC. Credit: NASA [3].

JoAnn Morgan studies posters of space-related news stories in the mobile exhibition when she was the associate director for Advanced Development and Shuttle Upgrades at KSC. Credit: NASA [3].

Morgan mentored many women, and men, during her more than four decade long career at NASA.

One of JoAnn’s mentees was Dr. Phil Metzger (@DrPhiltill), who shared the following [19]:

“I can add one tiny thing JoAnn did in addition to the many gigantic things described in this thread: she was responsible for me getting a PhD and becoming a planetary scientist.

KSC offered a fellowship for engineers to get PhD’s, and I asked several managers for ideas on what I should propose as a research topic. Mike O’Neal was JoAnn’s deputy. They discussed ideas and suggested I propose to study how rocket exhaust blows soil during lunar landings. I thought that was the coolest idea anybody suggested, so I made that my proposal. JoAnn was on the selection committee, and she selected me for the fellowship.

I don’t know if she even remembers me, but I will always be grateful for her role in creating ‘doctor’ Phil.”

STS-112 Pilot Pamela Melroy (left) and Mission Specialist Sandra Magnus (center) talk to Acting Deputy Director JoAnn Morgan (right) after the crew's return to KSC. Credit: NASA

STS-112 Pilot Pamela Melroy (left) and Mission Specialist Sandra Magnus (center) talk to Acting Deputy Director JoAnn Morgan (right) after the crew’s return to KSC. Credit: NASA

JoAnn was a role model for many, including Charlie Blackwell-Thompson at KSC.

Fun fact: KSC’s Firing Room 1 is now led by Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, the first female launch director at KSC. And she is slated to lead countdown and launch for NASA’s Exploration Mission-1. [17]

The photo of Charlie Blackwell-Thompson and JoAnn Morgan below takes JoAnn’s journey full circle. 

Credit: NASA

Credit: NASA

In 1993, JoAnn was interviewed by the Sun Sentinel, and she shared her hopes for the future of spaceflight: [6]

“Twenty years from now, I know where I’d like us to be, but the political environment is very frightening. I think the space station will live up to the intent of what we originally planned, but the potential may not be realized because budget cuts will deprive us of some opportunities.

Twenty years from now, I’d like us to be on our way to Mars and colonizing the moon. In the next 30 to 50 years, there should be enough knowledge to start us on the path of migrating life out of our solar system, which has to happen eventually.”

We’re behind schedule, by JoAnn time. But there’s no denying the next couple of years will be exciting in the spaceflight world.

JoAnn retired in August 2003 with an incredible 45 years of service to NASA.

Her list of accolades and honors are immense, including a Presidential Honor as a Meritorious Executive, being inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame, Exceptional Service Medals and Outstanding Leadership Medals from NASA, and much more. To this day, Morgan is still one of the most decorated women at KSC. [8]

Where is she now?

Retirement from NASA hasn’t stopped JoAnn from helping to pave a path for future generations.

JoAnn was appointed to be a state university trustee by Florida Governor Jeb Bush. While serving as a trustee, Morgan realized how important it was to encourage more women to pursue careers and college programs in STEM. She visits universities to advocate for women in engineering and encourage more opportunities, especially for engineering programs that need more diversity support. She sponsors scholarships at schools with low female enrollment in engineering programs, and has no plans of slowing down. [3] [17]

“Even though I’m almost 80 years old, I’m not giving up,” she says. [3]

Morgan encourages young people to stick with STEM careers even when they are hard work, because the rewards will be worth it in the end. [3]

JoAnn now splits her time between Florida and Montana, but that wasn’t always her plan. There was a time when she wanted to spend her golden years on Mars. “I thought they should have a geriatric program. If it happened 15 years ago, I would have been a volunteer,” she told CNN. [5]

When she watches the moon shine across the lake behind her Montana home, it’s hard not to smile when she thinks of all she’s accomplished. JoAnn Morgan told CNN, “I got to help put 12 people to walk on that moon. And I love telling everybody about it.” [5]

Conclusion

What started as a simple question from the ‘Apollo 11’ documentary turned into an incredible research adventure.

Thank you to everyone that helped track much of this information down, including David Kamp (Vanity Fair), Julia Bergeron (@julia_bergeron), Nina Diamond (Sun Sentinel), and many more. If there are any corrections or comments to add, please share.

Most importantly, to the trailblazer that helped pave the path for generations to come:

Thank you.

Feature written for Rocket Women by Megan Harrington

Works Cited

[1] https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8760684/
[2] https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2018/12/joann-morgan-nasa-apollo-11-interview
[3] https://www.nasa.gov/feature/the-story-of-joann-morgan
[4] https://twitter.com/megsylhydrazine/status/1133591034917662720
[5] https://www.cnn.com/2019/06/20/us/apollo-11-joann-morgan-only-woman-scn/index.html
[6] https://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/fl-xpm-1993-11-14-9310270685-story.amp.html
[7] https://epdf.pub/apollo-moon-missions-the-unsung-heroes.html
[8] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JoAnn_H._Morgan
[9] https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/turner-podcast-network/apollo-11-beyond-the-moon/e/61800572
[10] https://www.nalfl.com/?page_id=2523&cpage=1
[11] https://science.ksc.nasa.gov/shuttle/countdown/launch-team.html
[12] http://nalfl.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/PressReleaseApollo11FiringRoomPersonnel.pdf
[13] https://www.clarionledger.com/story/magnolia/2018/07/20/russia-and-nasa-soviets-tried-mess-up-moon-landing-apollo-11/803975002/
[14] https://ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/19720012253.pdf
[15] https://twitter.com/julia_bergeron/status/1134446533057949696
[16] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cape_Canaveral_Air_Force_Station_Launch_Complex_34
[17] https://news.wjct.org/post/meet-joann-morgan-only-woman-apollo-11-firing-room
[18] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sloan_Research_Fellowship
[19] https://twitter.com/DrPhiltill/status/1134296220678180865?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1134296220678180865&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fthreadreaderapp.com%2Fthread%2F1133591034917662720.html%3Frefreshed%3D1563512052

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet A Rocket Woman: Natalie Panek, Mission Systems Engineer & Women in STEM Advocate

27 May, 2019

Natalie Panek [Image credit: Natalia Dolan]

Natalie Panek [Image credit: Natalia Dolan]

Natalie Panek is truly an inspiration. Along with being a trailblazing space engineer, Natalie is dedicated to inspire, empower and uplift young women in science & engineering. Natalie talked to Rocket Women about growing up in an environment that cultivated possibility, the importance of mentors to break down barriers, working on a Martian rover and her new documentary ‘Space To Explore‘!

What was the path to get to where you are now in the space industry and what drives your passion for space?

My career in aerospace engineering launched from a dream to become an astronaut. I loved the idea of maybe one day travelling to space, exploring, and doing science alongside a really fantastic team. Watching a lot of science fiction –Star Trek, Star Wars, and Stargate with my mom when I was a kid – fueled this passion. I think my interest in science and engineering also sparked from a love for the outdoors.

Time outdoors fostered a curiosity and wonder for the world that has never gone away, which established a connection between science, tech, and engineering and how they can be used to positively shape the world.

I grew up in Alberta and spent a large portion of my childhood camping with my family. This time outdoors fostered a curiosity and wonder for the world that has never gone away, which established a connection between science, tech, and engineering and how they can be used to positively shape the world. And while I knew I wanted to be an astronaut, the path to becoming one was never all that clear. From some basic research, I knew that many astronauts are engineers. Despite not knowing much about engineering when I was younger, a physics teacher in high school encouraged me to pursue it.

The problem-solving aspect of engineering turned out to be a great fit and held my interest through both undergraduate and graduate studies. This path ultimately led me to the field of space robotics, in which I have been working for nearly the last decade. I actually had no experience with robotics before my job. There was a steep learning curve but with many great learning experiences from talented colleagues.

While I am not an astronaut today, I have worked on a ton of interesting projects as an aerospace engineer. The key takeaway here is that there are so many different opportunities to work in the aerospace industry that do not include becoming an astronaut (even though that would be really cool)!

Natalie Panek

Natalie Panek

Congratulations on your new documentary Space To Explore. Can you tell me more about the documentary and what inspired it?

The documentary focuses on my story and my dream of one day travelling to space. And in telling this story, a reminder that it is OK to set big goals and have big dreams, yet not achieve them. The power of those big dreams lies in everything that is learned along the way, with opportunities to create positive change.

The documentary was borne out of an interview I did for Air Canada’s En Route magazine. The producer read my interview while flying home from vacation and she found the feature really inspiring. It took a few years for all of the pieces to fit together after she initially reached out, and then the film premiered as a finalist last year in the Banff Mountain Film Festival!

Who were your role models when you were growing up and how important are role models to young girls?

Most of my role models growing up were fictional characters. I thought She-Ra was the coolest person ever – she was powerful and compassionate. I wanted to be just like Samantha Carter on Stargate SG-1, or even versions of Luke Skywalker and Wesley Crusher. I wish I could have emailed astronauts or aerospace engineers and asked all my questions when I was younger. A few years ago, I realized I am in a great position to share my experiences. I created an online platform and spaces where young people could connect with me and ask any questions they might have about space, engineering, robotics, or anything related to Science, Engineering, Technology, and Math (STEM).

I wanted to be just like Samantha Carter on Stargate SG-1, or even versions of Luke Skywalker and Wesley Crusher. I wish I could have emailed astronauts or aerospace engineers and asked all my questions when I was younger.

Natalie Panek participating in the International Space University's Space Studies Program (SSP09) course at NASA Ames Research Centre with fellow Rocket Woman Elizabeth Jens! [Photo credit: Eric Dahlstrom]

Natalie Panek participating in the International Space University’s Space Studies Program (SSP09) course at NASA Ames Research Centre with fellow featured Rocket Woman Elizabeth Jens! [Photo credit: Eric Dahlstrom]

Not knowing what to pursue in university or not having anyone to speak with can be overwhelming. Role models and mentors breaks down barriers by connecting young people with those working in STEM fields. And role models open up so many career opportunities that young people might just not be aware of.

Role models and mentors breaks down barriers by connecting young people with those working in STEM fields. And role models open up so many career opportunities that young people might just not be aware of.

How did your family help to shape your career path in STEM?

Honestly, I am not sure that my family knew how to support my dream of becoming an astronaut or a career in engineering. It was just so far from anything they had experience with. I would tell them my goals – for example, that I was going to learn how to fly a plane, drive a solar powered car across North America, or study aerospace engineering – and they never second guessed those conversations. It was almost like not saying anything made everything – even the biggest goals – seem both normal and achievable.

I grew up in an environment that cultivated possibility. And when failures happened or obstacles arose (which they often did), my parents encouraged moving on rather than dwelling, and were always available to help figure out what comes next.

I grew up in an environment that cultivated possibility. And when failures happened or obstacles arose (which they often did), my parents encouraged moving on rather than dwelling, and were always available to help figure out what comes next. While support and encouragement come in many forms, my family gave (gives) me the space and freedom to do what I need to do. This is so subtle, but impactful.

What are your favourite things about your workday?

I really love that I contribute to challenging engineering projects in a collaborative environment. I work with amazing teams on a daily basis to help design and build hardware that is going to explore space or go to another planet. But things do not always go according to plan when working on space projects. Every day presents something new and requires working with dynamic and creative co-workers to solve the challenges that pop up.

I really love that I contribute to challenging engineering projects in a collaborative environment. I work with amazing teams on a daily basis to help design and build hardware that is going to explore space or go to another planet.

I also really love testing and the opportunity to do hands-on work; to see our designs come to life in our clean rooms. Our engineering and robotic products need to operate in pretty extreme environments (imagine dust storms on Mars, driving through deep soil, climbing over rocks, and exposure to really cold or hot temperatures!). Designing and testing for these environments requires creativity and visualizing different ways of approaching and solving problems. It is very validating and what makes our work at MDA really exciting.

Our engineering and robotic products need to operate in pretty extreme environments (imagine dust storms on Mars, driving through deep soil, climbing over rocks, and exposure to really cold or hot temperatures!). Designing and testing for these environments requires creativity and visualizing different ways of approaching and solving problems.

Natalie Panek with Canadian Space Agency Astronaut Dr. Dave Williams [Photo Credit M. Northcott]

Natalie Panek with Canadian Space Agency Astronaut Dr. Dave Williams [Photo Credit M. Northcott]

What has been the most rewarding moment in your career so far?

I have worked on so many fascinating projects at MDA over the last decade. These projects range from studying how hazardous lunar dust affects the mechanical and electronic hardware that might be used in a lunar rover or lunar habitat, using robotic arms to repair or de-orbit broken-down satellites instead of letting them become space junk, and building robotic space tools.

I am actually working on a rover that is going to explore another planet and that is just so cool!

But the most rewarding moment of my career so far has been working on a Mars rover for the last 4.5 years. We are building the chassis and locomotion system for the European Space Agency’s ExoMars 2020 rover. The chassis and locomotion system (or the mobility system) is the frame of the rover: its legs, its wheels, as well as its motors and sensors. All of this hardware enables the rover to deploy once on Mars, as well as drive around and steer to get to its locations for science operations. I am actually working on a rover that is going to explore another planet and that is just so cool!

If you had one piece of advice for your 10-year-old self, what would it be? Would there be any decisions that you’d have made differently?

Advice I would pass along is not to be afraid to go outside of your comfort zone. I have been in a lot of scenarios where I was really nervous to take that first step, whether it was learning how to fly a plane or helping build a solar powered car, or even starting a job in robotics. I think this was because I did not want to be the person in the room who did not know anything.

Once you are in that room, you can help bring in more people whom look like you – others whom might also have been afraid to take that first step but would really, really be interested in science, engineering, technology, even robotics.

I was afraid that I did not have the skills to contribute. But if you can get over that initial fear and vulnerability, there is usually a great team surrounding you to help overcome those challenges and to help you build skills. And once you are in that room, you can help bring in more people whom look like you – others whom might also have been afraid to take that first step but would really, really be interested in science, engineering, technology, even robotics.

With respect to doing things differently, I do not think I would. I think about this question from time to time. For example, what if I had accepted my offer of admission to Stanford University to complete my masters in Aerospace Engineering, versus going to the University of Toronto. I think it is easy to worry about making a ‘wrong’ choice.

What really matters is whether opportunities to learn are always present and that you are surrounded by people whom lift you up. And if an opportunity or experience just does not feel right, there is no shame in making a change.

But I like the idea of having different options to consider, knowing that each option will take me down a different path, with different experiences, and meeting different people along the way. What really matters is whether opportunities to learn are always present and that you are surrounded by people whom lift you up. And if an opportunity or experience just does not feel right, there is no shame in making a change.

Partnerships, Rocket Women Reflections

Rocket Women Reflections on the 2019 Women in Space Conference

18 May, 2019

By Bethany Downer

In February 2019 Scottsdale, Arizona hosted the Women in Space 2019 Conference (WIS) as an expansion of the Women in Planetary Science and Exploration 2018 conference. Rocket Women was also a proud partner of the event. The two-day event highlighted the achievements of women and non-binary researchers, while offering an opportunity to discuss, challenge, network, and support their peers. Rocket Women discussed the impact and reflections of the event with two attendees.

Emma Louden attended the 2019 Women in Space Conference in February 2019 in Scottsdale, Arizona. [Emma Louden]

Emma Louden attended the 2019 Women in Space Conference in February 2019 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
[Emma Louden]

Emma Louden is a junior at Princeton University majoring in Astrophysics and pursuing a minor in Planets and Life. She learned about WIS through the Brooke Owens Fellowship program and sought to share her research and to network with other attendees. When asked what the highlight experience of the event was for her, Emma explained the impact of meeting and hearing from other conference participants, which introduced her to a broader network of people to look up to who are “doing amazing science AND are committed to supporting women and non-binary scientists in the space industry.”

Luc Riesbeck attended the 2019 Women in Space Conference in February 2019 in Scottsdale, Arizona. They are pictured here with other conference attendees. [Luc Riesbeck]

Luc Riesbeck attended the 2019 Women in Space Conference in February 2019 in Scottsdale, Arizona. They are pictured here with other conference attendees. [Luc Riesbeck]

Luc Riesbeck is a master’s student at George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute and is interning with the Aerospace Corporation’s Center for Space Policy and Strategy in D.C during the Summer of 2019. As a non-binary person, Luc expressed that events and conferences geared towards diversity and inclusion in the industry can be “a little intimidating” due too possible misconceptions that diversity in STEM fields is “shorthand” for the inclusion of cis women, noting that cis women make up “just one part of a much larger picture of human diversity.” Fortunately, they noticed the dedication to this larger picture on the event’s website, which promoted a “holistic experience, organized by a team that respects the space industry’s potential for growth.”

The event delivered a wide variety of high quality presentations. Luc’s favourite moment from the conference was Dr. Julie Rathburn’s presentation on Loki, the most powerful volcano on Jupiter’s moon Io. They described the talk as “like watching Willy Wonka talk about the coolest candy ever made. Her energy and enthusiasm were beyond infectious; I left the talk feeling almost giddy with delight. I’ve never been more impressed with a technical presentation at a conference in my life, and I suspect I’ll probably never come across a better one”.

Her energy and enthusiasm were beyond infectious; I left the talk feeling almost giddy with delight. I’ve never been more impressed with a technical presentation at a conference in my life, and I suspect I’ll probably never come across a better one.

As the event sought to bring together individuals of various backgrounds to participate in the discussion, the event’s webpage stated “Supporting #WomenInSTEM is the prime goal” of the event. When asked how it feels to be in a room of individuals who came together to demonstrate their support for women in space, Luc expressed that it felt “spectacular” due to the wealth of perspectives from the attendees and the amount of quality ideas that emerged from the conference. “Suddenly we didn’t have to live in a bubble, hearing the same types of people that we have our whole careers—we could just choose to listen to voices we ordinarily wouldn’t.”

Suddenly we didn’t have to live in a bubble, hearing the same types of people that we have our whole careers—we could just choose to listen to voices we ordinarily wouldn’t.

Similarly, Emma expressed that when being in a room with like-minded support for #WomenInSTEM, “much of the toxic atmosphere present in male-centered academia evaporates. It is replaced by a feeling of support and belonging. There is a strong sense of community and identity that results in a level of comfort that is often lacking in other academic settings.”

When in a room with like-minded support for #WomenInSTEM, “much of the toxic atmosphere present in male-centered academia evaporates. It is replaced by a feeling of support and belonging. There is a strong sense of community and identity.”

It is clear that events like this have a meaningful impact not only on its participants, but also in the broader space industry. “Events like this signal that the future of the space industry is going to be more equitable and representative of the world because the people who attend conferences like Women in Space are working incredibly hard to make sure that reality comes into being,” shared Emma. “It shows a commitment to disrupting the status quo and moving toward a more inclusive space industry.”

Scholarships

Rocket Women Announce International Space University Scholarship

18 March, 2019

Proceeds from Rocket Women apparel will support a scholarship towards the International Space University's (ISU) Space Studies Program (SSP) [Image: International Space University (ISU)]

Proceeds from Rocket Women apparel will support a scholarship towards the International Space University’s (ISU) Space Studies Program (SSP) [Image: International Space University (ISU)]

Following the successful launch of Rocket Women’s new apparel collection with proceeds aiding a scholarship for women in STEM, Rocket Women are thrilled to announce that each purchase of Rocket Women apparel this year will support a scholarship for the International Space University (ISU) Space Studies Program (SSP)!

Dr. Nicol Caplin wearing her Rocket Women sweater [Image: Nicol Caplin, Twitter: @DrCaplin www.twitter.com/DrCaplin]

Dr. Nicol Caplin wearing her Rocket Women sweater [Image: Nicol Caplin, Twitter: @DrCaplin www.twitter.com/DrCaplin]

Proceeds from Rocket Women apparel will support a scholarship to be provided to a woman of any nationality attending the International Space University’s Space Studies Program (SSP), through the Morla Milne Memorial Scholarship Fund, a scholarship fund to honor the memory of Morla Milne. This fund aims to support annual scholarship awards to students in the ISU Space Studies Program.

The Rocket Women apparel collection was born from a desire to make a difference. Representation matters and scholarships play a pivotal role in encouraging diverse talented individuals to pursue opportunities in STEM that may have not have had that chance otherwise. Rocket Women wants to empower women with apparel and messaging to become Rocket Women, whilst also building opportunities for future young women through proceeds supporting a scholarship for the International Space University’s life-changing programs.

Rocket Women are additionally immensely grateful to the International Space University (ISU) for offering to match the donation, underlining the continuous efforts of ISU to work towards a better gender distribution in the space sector. Rocket Women would also like to thank Märka Design for their stunning Rocket Women apparel print designs.

Rocket Women aims to inspire the next generation of young women to choose a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths), especially in space and aerospace, so that we can improve the current percentage of female science and engineering talent.

Rocket Women Apparel to support an ISU scholarship can be purchased here.

Rocket Women Founder Vinita Marwaha Madill wears the 'Rocket Woman' jumper. Proceeds from Rocket Women apparel support a scholarship for a young woman to attend the International Space University (ISU).

Rocket Women Founder Vinita Marwaha Madill wears the ‘Rocket Woman’ jumper. Proceeds from Rocket Women apparel support a scholarship for a woman to attend the International Space University (ISU).

Rocket Women believes that role models need to be tangible and visible, and through inspirational interviews with women in STEM and advice, Rocket Women want to encourage girls to be involved in STEM and realise the impact that they can make. As Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” www.rocket-women.com

The International Space University, founded in 1987 in Massachusetts, US and now headquartered in Strasbourg, France, is the world’s premier international space education institution. It is supported by major space agencies and aerospace organizations from around the world. The graduate level programs offered by ISU are dedicated to promoting international, interdisciplinary and intercultural cooperation in space activities. ISU offers the Master of Science in Space Studies program at its Central Campus in Strasbourg. Since the summer of 1988, ISU also conducts the highly acclaimed two-month Space Studies Program at different host institutions in locations spanning the globe and Southern Hemisphere Space Studies Program. ISU programs are delivered by over 100 ISU faculty members in concert with invited industry and agency experts from institutions around the world. Since its founding, 30 years ago, more than 4600 students from over 100 countries graduated from ISU. www.isunet.edu

Inspirational women, Media, Partnerships

Rocket Women Celebrates International Women’s Day with Empowering Women with Tech

17 March, 2019

Speakers at the Empowering Women With Tech International Women's Day 2019 event . Pictured (L-R): Eve Roodhouse (Chief Officer Economic Development, Leeds City Council), Niamh McKenna (Managing Director Accenture Health UK), Natasha Sayce-Zelem (Founder, Empowering Women with Tech), Ana Jakimovska (Director of Product Management, The Guardian), Vinita Marwaha Madill (Founder, Rocket Women), Councillor Rebecca Charlwood (Leeds City Council) [David Lindsay/Empowering Women with Tech]

Speakers at the Empowering Women With Tech International Women’s Day 2019 event . Pictured (L-R): Eve Roodhouse (Chief Officer Economic Development, Leeds City Council), Niamh McKenna (Managing Director Accenture Health UK), Natasha Sayce-Zelem (Founder, Empowering Women with Tech), Ana Jakimovska (Director of Product Management, The Guardian), Vinita Marwaha Madill (Founder, Rocket Women), Councillor Rebecca Charlwood (Leeds City Council) [David Lindsay/Empowering Women with Tech]

Rocket Women were honoured to celebrate International Women’s Day 2019 with Empowering Women With Tech. Rocket Women Founder Vinita Marwaha Madill participated in a series of Fireside Chats with truly inspirational women in tech, including Ana Jakimovska (The Guardian’s Director of Product Management), Niamh McKenna (Managing Director, Accenture Health UK), Milena Nikolic (Director of Software Engineering, Google), Eve Roodhouse (Chief Officer Economic Development, Leeds City Council) & Councillor Rebecca Charlwood (Leeds City Council). The event was organised by the amazing Natasha Sayce-Zelem, Head of Technology for Digital Service at Sky and founder of Empowering Women with Tech and took place in the Howard Assembly Room of the Opera North Grand Theatre in Leeds, UK with an audience of around 300.

Rocket Women Founder Vinita Marwaha Madill on-stage talking with Natasha Sayce-Zelem, Founder of Empowering Women with Tech, on International Women's Day [David Lindsay/Empowering Women with Tech]

Rocket Women Founder Vinita Marwaha Madill on-stage talking with Natasha Sayce-Zelem, Founder of Empowering Women with Tech, on International Women’s Day [David Lindsay/Empowering Women with Tech]

Highlights of the Empowering Women with Tech International Women’s Day evening included The Guardian News and Media’s Director of Product, Ana Jakimovska discussing the dangers that journalism is facing at the moment and the focus of her career, “My career has been mission-driven to make a difference. I realised the impact of the output of organisations including BBC & Channel 4.” Accenture Health UK’s Managing Director Niamh McKenna emphasised the importance of saying yes to opportunities and then figuring out how to do them later. Vinita Marwaha Madill, representing Rocket Women, talked about how to empower young women to choose a career in STEM and the importance of allies believing in your abilities and supporting your goals.

Thank you to Empowering Women with Tech for inviting Rocket Women to celebrate International Women’s Day in the UK alongside some trailblazing role models!


View this post on Instagram

Thank you to @bbcradioleeds & @bbcyorkshire for having @guardian’s Ana Jakimovska (Director of Product) & myself in the studio live on the drivetime show discussing #EmpowerWithTech, #InternationalWomensDay & our advice for young #WomenInSTEM! 💪🏼 “Always believe in yourself and it’s really important to surround yourself with allies that believe in you & your goals also.” 👩🏽‍🚀 @rocketwomen Dress: Rocket Science dress by @svahausa! #Gifted (I really love it – great cut & style & it has pockets!) 🚀 #STEM #RocketWomen #Explore #SciComm #Inspo #instagood #photooftheday #instago #picoftheday #BBCTravel #ootd #Exploration #Goals #aimhigh #IWD2019 #InternationalWomensDay2019 #discoverunder10k #iamanengineer #ironringgirls #Space #Astronaut #Radio #Media #Blogger #WomenInSTEM #NatGeo #womeninscience

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Astronauts, Inspirational women

NASA Astronauts To Conduct Historic First All-Female Spacewalk

14 March, 2019

L - NASA Astronaut Anne McClain with her son posing for her official NASA EVA portrait  R - NASA Astronaut Christina Koch during EVA/Spacewalk training at NASA [NASA]

L – NASA Astronaut Anne McClain with her son posing for her official NASA EVA portrait [NASA]
R – NASA Astronaut Christina Koch during EVA/Spacewalk training at NASA [NASA]

NASA Astronauts Anne McClain and Christina Koch are scheduled to make history, conducting the first all-female spacewalk (or EVA – Extravehicular Activity) on 29th March 2019, during Women’s History Month. Almost 35 years after Cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya became the 1st woman to walk in space on 25th July 1984.

The news was broken by the awesome Rocket Woman Canadian Space Agency Flight Controller Kristen Facciol, who will be supporting the spacewalk from the ground on the ROBO console in NASA’s Mission Control. (Read Rocket Women’s interview with the inspirational Kristen Facciol here!)

Rocket Women shared Kristen Facciol’s news through Twitter a few days ago. Kristen broke the news saying: “I just found out that I’ll be on console providing support for the FIRST ALL FEMALE SPACEWALK with @AstroAnnimal and @Astro_Christina and I can not contain my excitement!!!! #WomenInSTEM #WomenInEngineering #WomenInSpace.”

The title of the most experienced female spacewalker (and the third most experienced spacewalker ever) is held by NASA Astronaut Peggy Whitson. Peggy’s astounding 665 days in space (cumulative) also makes her the most experienced NASA Astronaut ever! Peggy Whitson made history in 2008 as she took over command of the International Space Station (ISS), becoming its first female commander.

A spokesperson from NASA confirmed that the 29th March spacewalk will be supported in NASA’s Mission Control by lead Flight Director Mary Lawrence, and lead EVA (spacewalk) flight controller Jackie Kagey. The recent 2018 NASA flight director class chosen was 50% female, as was the 2013 NASA Astronaut class that both Anne McClain and Christina Koch were selected in, the highest female ratio chosen.

The most recent 2017 NASA astronaut selection brought the percentage of female NASA astronauts in the NASA Astronaut Corps to just over 30%, this thirty years after Sally Ride became the first American woman in space. Here’s to hoping that all-female spacewalks will become commonplace in the future!

Education, Partnerships

Rocket Women Announces Partnership With Women In Space 2019

5 February, 2019

Women In Space Conference 2019 [Women In Space Conference 2019/ Tanya Harrison]

Women In Space Conference 2019 [Women In Space Conference 2019 / Tanya Harrison]

Rocket Women are excited to announce our partnership with Women In Space Conference 2019!

Women In Space 2019 will be an amazing event for ‘scientists and engineers to showcase their work in the field of space and planetary science’. The conference aims to highlight ‘the achievements of women and non-binary researchers, while offering an opportunity to discuss, challenge, network, and support their peers’ – supporting and celebrating #WomenInSTEM!

The conference will take place from 7-8th February 2019 in Scottsdale, Arizona (USA) and welcomes ‘geologists, geophysicists, engineers, geographers, astrobiologists, chemists, physicists, astronomers, social scientists, and any other people of all genders working or researching in a related field’ to attend! The conference also features a brilliant ‘Girls In Space!‘ event aimed towards the ages of 12-18, where students can learn about ‘space-related science and engineering activities, careers, and will have the chance to meet women working on NASA missions to seek out potential mentors’. Look out for some Rocket Women goodies and apparel at the event!

Excellent speakers range from experts on planetary science to astrophysics, space medicine, science communication and supporting education in STEM, to satellite constellations. Rocket Women is proud to be a partner of Women In Space 2019 and register here to attend!

Media

Rocket Women Featured By She The People

3 February, 2019
Rocket Women Featured In She The People TV

Rocket Women Featured In She The People TV

Rocket Women are honoured to be featured by She The People.TV! She The People.TV are India’s first women’s channel inspired by real stories and aim to change the discourse for women.

There has always been a dearth of women in the field of science despite their phenomenal talent. Vinita Marwaha Madill, an advocate for women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math), aims to not only work towards broadening this “acceptance”, but also to encourage young girls to realise their true passion and build on it.

Having grown up in the United Kingdom, the Indian-origin woman is currently based at the European Space Agency (ESA) where she is working on future human spaceflight projects as a Space Operations Engineer. Vinita has also been involved in spacesuit design for ESA. Alongside holding several designations, Vinita, who is in her early-30s, has also started a platform, Rocket Women, to inspire women around the world and provide advice on working in the space and technology industries.

Read the full interview here at She The People.TV or the highlights below:

How did the idea of Rocket Women apparel line come up?

I noticed that over the years, the number of women that progressed with me to ultimately choose a career in engineering decreased, something which is called the ‘leaky pipeline’ syndrome. Only 15 per cent of UK engineering graduates are female, with the number of women ultimately choosing engineering decreasing further. In India, India Institutes of Technology (IITs) are reserving 14 per cent of the seats for women, aiming to encourage more women to apply in future.

Encouraging more girls to pursue engineering will help to fill this gap, ensuring that they make up 50 per cent of engineering talent and that we’re not missing out on the talent available. The Rocket Women apparel collection was born from a desire to make a difference.

Proceeds from Rocket Women clothing will support a scholarship for young women who choose to study engineering and science. Representation matters and scholarships play a pivotal role in encouraging diverse talented individuals to pursue opportunities in STEM that may have not have had that chance otherwise.

Without the fortuity of scholarships myself, I would have never had been able to complete my studies internationally and to reach my goals in the space industry. With Rocket Women, we want to empower women with our apparel and messaging to become Rocket Women, whilst also building opportunities for future young women through proceeds supporting a scholarship

How will Rocket Women inspire young girls and women to understand their passion and pursue it?

My passion, and the goal of my website Rocket Women is to inspire girls globally to consider a career in STEM. Outside of my career path in space, I realised there was something more. With Rocket Women, we’re focusing on outreach and I’ve been lucky to be involved in projects, including a campaign and round table with Instagram and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, highlighting the importance of education.

During my career, I’ve met some amazing people — especially other positive female role models. I think you need those role models out there, tangible and visible, to be able to inspire the next generation of young girls to become astronauts, or be whatever they want to be. As Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, said, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” It’s one of my favourite quotes and is absolutely true.

I started Rocket Women to give these women a voice and a platform to spread their advice. I’m interviewing women around the world in STEM, particularly in space, and posting the interviews on Rocket Women, along with advice to encourage girls to be involved in STEM.

By featuring stories of women in STEM, we want Rocket-Women.com to give young women and girls the realisation that they can be astronauts or whatever they want to be. Our aim is to empower young women to choose a career in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) and achieve their dreams, so that we can improve the current percentage of female engineering talent.

We’re driven at Rocket Women by this powerful thought – Imagine what the world would look like if it reached 100% of its technological potential?

Read the full She The People.TV article here!

Inspirational women, Meet A Rocket Woman

Meet The Next Generation Of Rocket Women: Taylor Richardson, 15, Future Astronaut

13 January, 2019
Taylor Richardson

Taylor Richardson

Taylor Richardson is on a mission to become an astronaut. Along her journey she has impressively raised almost $20,000 to send girls to see the movie Hidden Figures, encouraging them to join STEM, and has recently raised over $110,000 to send girls to see the movie A Wrinkle In Time! Her notable support for the campaign is inspired by the fact that, “It’s a fantasy film that is not about some white boys fighting evil, but about a black girl overcoming it.” In the second installment of a new series featuring the next generation of Rocket Women, Taylor talks to Rocket Women about her focus to become an astronaut, her amazing advocacy campaigns and the importance of seeing role models that reflect you.

How were you inspired to choose a career in the space industry and what fuels your passion for space?

Reading Dr. Mae Jemison’s book, “Find Where The Wind Goes”, had a big impact on me. And once I attended space camp in Huntsville, Alabama, it was solidified that I was going to be an astronaut and go to Mars one day!

My passion is fueled by space – the final frontier. When I was younger one of my favorite things to do at night was lie out in the yard and look up at the stars. It was beautiful, mysterious and exciting to wonder what is up there and how I can get up there. There is a whole universe out there for me to explore and I can’t wait to be able to do so.

Reading Dr. Mae Jemison’s book, “Find Where The Wind Goes”, had a big impact on me. And once I attended space camp in Huntsville, Alabama, it was solidified that I was going to be an astronaut and go to Mars one day!

Can you talk about your goal to become an astronaut and your journey to achieve this?

Once my curiosity was sparked it was all about research. After attending space camp I visited various space centers and had the opportunity to meet with a number astronauts and ask them about their journey. Now it is all about doing well in high school so that I get into a great college. That’s my focus right now.

Congratulations on your Hidden Figures campaign and for raising over $25,000 to send 1,000 students to see the film A Wrinkle in Time!

A new GoFundMe campaign aims to highlight a exciting documentary titled ‘Astronaut Starbright’ about your dedicated work to champion STEM and pursuit to become an astronaut! How did these campaigns come about and why is your work so important?

After I received a community service award from the Governor of Florida I got invited to a private screening of Hidden Figures at The White House with First Lady Michelle Obama and the film’s creators. The film inspired me to create a fundraising campaign so some local youth in Jacksonville could see the film. That’s how it all started.

The work is important because there is a lack of highly visible representations of women in STEM positions, and even less for black women in STEM careers. I know that lots of girl like math and science but they turn to other things when they never hear about women in STEM or even have women as math and science teachers. We just want to be represented, and we still are not there yet. I think more encouragement and inclusion is needed.

There is a lack of highly visible representations of women in STEM positions, and even less for black women in STEM careers. I know that lots of girl like math and science but they turn to other things when they never hear about women in STEM or even have women as math and science teachers. We just want to be represented, and we still are not there yet.

 

Who have been your role models growing up? How important are role models to young girls?

I have many role models. Some older, some younger than me. My biggest two roles are Dr. Mae Jemison and my local mentor Mr. Darnell Smith. I call him Uncle D now. I’ve known him since I was nine and he’s been right by my side through this journey called life with me. Guiding me with support and advice that ensures I do things right. And even when I mess up he’s there to support. I think one of his most endearing qualities is his genuineness.

He touches everyone in a way where you can immediately connect with him. He’s patient and supports me in everything that I do. He teaches no judgment, only lessons learned! And when I do fail or make a mistake he makes me feel better by telling me his stories of failure and achievements throughout life. He always tells me to continue my faith in God, be kind to my mom, serve and help others and to be my best self. I hope that I’m making him proud. He’s definitely impacted my life by how I’ve watched him live his. With the kindness, faith and service.

What can I say about Dr. Mae Jemison, first African American female to go to space. She’s my shero! Seeing her makes me feel like I can do anything as long as I put my mind to it. Having someone like Dr. Jemison. who looks like me. makes me feel good about myself. She’s not just an African American role model, she’s a role model for all people and girls like me who want to live their dreams of becoming astronauts. Which is why it’s so important for girls to have role models they can look up to and role models that are reflections of them.

How did your family help to shape your career path in STEM?

My mom probably help most shape my interest in STEM by ensuring I had equal opportunity to resources like books, STEM camps and clubs. Being a good support system for me as well has help me stay encouraged focus and determined to achieve my dream.

Taylor Richardson

Taylor Richardson

What does the world need more and less of?

With everything going on in the world it could definitely use more love and less hate. I hope people will to be more accepting and inclusive to make the world a better place. To raise their voices up and act big in a positive way.

If you had one piece of advice for your 10-year-old self, what would it be? Would there be any decisions that you’d have made differently?

Own your power, be the one who stands out in the crowd, who speaks up, and is either the voice they need to hear, or a voice for others. Seek out mentors, coaches, and investors because camps are not cheap. Don’t be discouraged and fight for your dream because we need you!

I hope that kids will see me and know that with hard work, faith, and determination they can reach their goals, STEM or not. It would be nice to have more people, more organizations, more companies be intentional and ensure people of all backgrounds are represented at not just the STEM table but all tables.

Media, Scholarships, Shop

Rocket Women Launches Apparel To Support Scholarship

8 December, 2018

For post Rocket women final apparel print smaller 181202-21 jpg

We’re thrilled to announce that Rocket Women have launched a line of apparel designs (for babies, kids and adults) featuring our brand new logo by the amazing Marka Design! Part of the proceeds from the apparel will go towards a scholarship for young women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths). Our t-shirts, sweatshirts, stickers, tote bags and more make fantastic holiday gifts, whilst helping to support the next generation.

If you love these designs as much as we do, you can purchase them at Red Bubble here.

[Update: We’re thrilled to announce that proceeds from Rocket Women apparel will support a scholarship to be provided to a woman of any nationality attending the International Space University‘s Space Studies Program (SSP)!)

Here are some of our designs!

Rocket Woman Hoodie [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Rocket Woman Hoodie [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Rocket Women Patch Sweatshirt [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Rocket Women Patch Sweatshirt [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Future Rocket Woman Children's T-Shirt - Pink [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Future Rocket Woman Children’s T-Shirt – Pink [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Future Rocket Woman Onesie [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Future Rocket Woman Onesie [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Rocket Women T-shirt [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Rocket Women T-shirt [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Future Rocket Woman [Red Bubble/Marka Design]

Future Rocket Woman Kids T-Shirt [Red Bubble/Marka Design]