COMING SOON: Fire in Mission Control: the story of a woman flight controllerTo answer the question, "What was it like to be one of the first women flight controllers?" and also to record the history of the early Space Shuttle program, I'm writing an autobiographical book called Fire in Mission Control.
My journey to NASA and a lifelong interest in space began with the inspiration of Apollo. So, in tribute to the memory of Neil Armstrong and all the heroic Apollo veterans who inspired a generation, my book opens with the story of where I was the day men first landed on the Moon.
July 20, 1969
“Girls! Girls!” someone hollered from outside the big red barn. I was at Rambling Acres Horseback-Riding Camp, near Canton, Ohio. “Put your brooms away and come up to the house! They’ve landed on the Moon!”
I didn’t need a second invitation. I’d enthusiastically followed the space program since first grade when John Glenn had orbited the Earth. I was 14 now, and I loved space even more than horses. The previous spring, I’d even written and hand printed a 60-page book, “The Apollo Program” for my eighth-grade English class.
I dashed from the stall, latching the gate behind me, and ran up the dusty road to the camp owner’s house. “Wait up!” my best friend Chrisse hollered as she scampered up the road behind me, followed by the other girls.
The owner, Mrs. Noll, insisted we brush dust and straw off each other’s clothes and remove our dirty shoes before entering her house. Then we filed into her living room and settled down cross-legged on the carpet, facing the television set. The TV was a stand-alone piece of furniture, a box on legs about three feet tall with “rabbit ears” antenna. The picture was in black and white.
The familiar face of CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite appeared on the screen. In his deep voice, he explained that Mission Control in Houston had given Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin the “go” to exit their spacecraft. The men had been scheduled to sleep, but were too keyed up after the exciting first landing on the Moon.
I was keyed up, too. It was the first day of camp, and I’d just met five new girls. We had plenty to talk about while we waited for the astronauts to leave the lunar lander. "Which one do you think is the cutest?" Sue asked me as we loaded our plates for dinner.
"It doesn't matter," I said, snatching a roll. "They're married!"
Sue frowned and then sighed as she scooped beans onto her plate. "Wouldn't it be dreamy to marry an astronaut?""Yeah," I agreed. Then I added silenty, "But even better if you could be one!"
We finished dinner, and the astronauts still hadn't emerged from their ship. We wondered what they were having for dinner. (I found out later, bacon cubes. Yuk!) We trotted back to the barn for evening chores. I brushed the horse who shared my nickname, Red. Then we got our showers and returned to Mrs. Noll's house.
The television spurted static-filled voices of the crew talking with Mission Control. What was taking so long? Why didn’t they just open the door and hop out? Bedtime came and went. Luckily, Mrs. Noll let us stay up for this historic occasion.
Finally, six hours after Apollo 11 landed, the ghostly black and white “live from the Moon” image flickered on the screen. At 10:39 p.m. Eastern time, Armstrong spoke the now-famous words, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” as he stepped backwards off the ladder onto the lunar surface. I remember thinking how I’d like to follow in his footsteps.
But in 1969, there was no such thing as a woman astronaut. No woman in my family had even gone to college. Yet, the previous winter, I’d written in my diary, “I wish very much to be able to be an astronaut. I’m sorry I’m a girl, but I’ll have to try harder then.”
As I gazed up at the half-full Moon that July night, I marveled that there were men up there looking back at me. If those men could walk on the Moon, then maybe a skinny red-headed girl from a small town in Ohio could find a way to go to college and one day work for NASA.
END of excerpt.
As part of NASA's 50th anniversary, I was a guest on The Space Show with Dr. David Livingston on Nov. 11, 2008. I discussed the first five Shuttle flights, including the fire in Mission Control. Listen to show.
Marianne, 2nd from right, at Rambling Acres, July 1969. Best friend Chrisse is 5th from right. Girl on far right is Judy. Our counselor is standing. Help identifying the other girls would be appreciated! Click to view high resolution version.
Based on my research and personal experience as a flight controller for NASA, I created a list of the First Women Flight Controllers.
Columbia Quotes - Quotes from the Columbia crew, families, VIPs, kids, and an explanation of what happened.