I stayed there long enough to get a math degree, and I was gone. I headed straight to Cape Canaveral! 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. He provided Morgan with a pathway to certification. And from all appearances, that was the perfect summation. Morgan was a talented mathematician, a fantastic communicator and a bona fide engineer. In this position, she earned a seat in the firing room for launch.
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To get a sense of scale of the firing room, it seated critical personnel, which included technicians, engineers, test conductors, and launch directors. 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.
And it continued some on Apollo 9 and So the question was: what was causing it?
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Initially, they had no idea. Using their tracking systems, they were able to identify Russian submarines in the area. 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.
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. You call her Ms. 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.
One of the TV operators noticed, from the station downstairs. The look on your face. Has there been a death in the family? Roy Tharpe sat next to Morgan in the firing room as the chief test support controller for Apollo She was extremely competent. 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.
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. JoAnn thanked the TV technician and told him he needed to share that with his boss. They would beat the tar out of them. So, JoAnn started minimizing her time out of her chair.
They just kept me from getting my work done, and I loved my work. I wanted to be 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. This is a glimpse of the Launch Complex 14 bathroom as it is used today. You can see in the mirror that the stalls have shower curtains put up for the benefit of privacy.
There was no hardware indicating there had been doors. During a launch, it could accommodate people, as well as test and instrumentation equipment. Periscopes afforded views outside the windowless facility. This is what the LC blockhouse looked like on the inside:. A packed LC 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.
The acting test supervisor saw her come in, sit down, and go to plug in her headset. So she immediately called her director, Karl Sendler who had ordered the test results in the first place. Plug in your headset and get those test results to me as soon as you can. In response to the treatment of Morgan, others came forward to make it known that JoAnn was accepted.
She held her own with the guys, and JoAnn garnered the support of her peers. They would go down each row. Despite the challenges, JoAnn soared passed it with a passion that overrode anything else — the lonely moments, the little bits of negative. You just swat it and push on.
This was especially true in the timeframe between Apollo 8 and Apollo 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. That workload was relentless. And in , while trying to help get the Apollo program off the ground, Morgan collapsed in an elevator at KSC.
She was pregnant and began hemorrhaging. They got me to the hospital, but it was too late. Her husband, Larry Van Morgan, was a high-school math and science teacher and bandmaster , and his older sister was a laser physicist. And she learned this very early on. 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.
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. Speak up!
But nobody asked. JoAnn was still a teenager at the time, and — as she was taught — she politely waited to speak until spoken to. 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.
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