SANTA ROSA, Fla. – Packed around a table in Santa Rosa, Florida, a group of old friends met for a 50-year reunion last October.
What You Need To Know
- Women of the Apollo program reunite
- They worked together between 1966 and 1969
- Worked mostly as associate engineers
“I have not seen them in 50 years and it was like, we didn’t miss a beat.," Carolyn Corson said, clapping her hands for emphasis.
“It’s so funny, it’s just like yesterday," Pat Gizelar said. "We just pick up where we left off.”
They didn't meet for a high school or college reunion, this get-together came with bit more history.
“As I get older, it is really fun to think about all that we did, really fun," Ann Rives said.
“The older I have gotten the more I think wow, that was just the coolest experience I could have had. Not many women had it," Corson said.
“And we didn’t realize we were in the middle of history being created. It was just a fabulous time," Patty Blackmon said.
Lenn Jackson, Carolyn Corson, Norma Ann Dodd, Jan Bochnowski, Patty Blackmon, Pat Gizelar, Ann Rives, Jane Woolley and Jane's husband Randy all have something in common. They all worked on the Apollo Program between the years of 1966 and 1969.
“I think the whole space program was so fascinating and exciting. Because it had never been done, and it was just very, very thrilling. Obvisouly, when it first started you didn’t know if anybody was going to survive, so it was quiet something," said Bochnowski.
In their early 20s at the time, these women worked mostly as associate engineers who helped with computer, scientific and flight programs. Most were all contracted through Boeing and one through IBM. There women took to calculus and derivatives like the average person counts to ten.
"I was doing calculus, differential equations were fun to do, and I loved to write code. And so, we were just having a blast," said Jane Woolley. "“And someone was paying you for it, and at that time, handsomely. Oh yes, I was making my first year, my entry salary was more than my father ever made in his career.”
Even 50 years later, the memory of Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and Michael Collins launching into space and then landing on the moon is forever etched in their brains.
“That particular night I distinctly remember," Randy Woolley said.
“I had three programs at liftoff. So I was, that was an incredible, incredible to say, ‘Gee, I had something to do with that,'" said Jane Woolley.
All the women watched separately back in 1969. But all tell very similar memories.
“We were sitting on the couch, and we watched it on TV like everybody else. And that was really neat. ‘One small step for man...," said Jackson.
“Oh my gosh it was very emotional, because our project, my job ended right before they landed. And wow, (swallows back tears) it was just amazing," said Rives.
“Oh, it was just an unbelievable feeling," Blackmon said.
"That was so meaningful ya know? And I am so impressed, but at the same time, I told my brother then, that night, I said ya know, ‘I am really excited about this, but at the same time I am sad. Because my job is over," Dodd said.
The moon landing came with a high and a low for these women. For all of them still working as part of their contracts, this would be the end.
“The girls are going first, that was told to me. You are female, your husband is not going to get laid off, in this first round. And so that was the first time I was I felt different. And it wasn’t illegal for them to tell me that," Jane Woolley said.
But for smart, driven women this only really meant the opportunity for other jobs down the line. No pink slip could take away what they knew to be true.
“If we hadn’t had women, I don’t think we would be where we are today," Dodd said.
"I feel they wouldn’t gotten the job done without us," Rives said.
Now more than fifty years later, the women piled newspaper clippings, pictures and documents of the first moon walk only solidify their support for all future space missions.
“I wish I was about 40 years younger so I could be part of it," Dodd said.
“I think we just have this need to explore forever," Bochnowski said.
"We live in such an amazing time. And to wonder what is going to be next," Gizelar said with a sly smile.