Martha Lemasters remembers the jubilation that filled the room 50 years ago as workers at the Kennedy Space Center heard over the intercom that the Apollo spacecraft’s lunar module landed on the moon.
“It is the greatest technological achievement to date,” said Lemasters, 82, of Vero Beach, who worked as a marketing communications writer for the Apollo mission at Cape Canaveral. “It solidified America as a leader in the space race and brought unity to the people.”
The massive Saturn V, a liquid-propellant expandable rocket, was used during the Apollo Program to help bring man to the moon. The 363-foot tall rocket used for the Apollo 11 mission carried astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins as it blasted off from Kennedy Space Center July 16, 1969.
Hundreds of thousands of people braved the muggy heat and packed causeways and beaches to watch. Millions more tuned in to television sets and radios around the world to follow the mission as the rocket thundered to life on the launchpad and toward its lofty destination.
Part of the spacecraft – the Apollo Lunar Module – would land on the moon four days later, marking an extraordinary achievement for America and mankind.
For Aldrin, the second man to step foot on the lunar surface, the mission was a dream come true.
“The Apollo 11 mission was many things to many people. To me, it was the dream we had all signed up to chase, what we had imagined, worked and trained for, the apex of service, aviation and exploration,” said Aldrin, lunar module pilot for Apollo 11, in an emailed statement sent to Vero News. “It was an honor to be a part of Apollo – that was how I felt in 1969, how I still feel. This is a blessed nation. I hope we never forget how lucky we are to be Americans.”
There were about 440,000 employees, from writers to mission control specialists and engineers, who worked on various tasks during the Apollo program’s efforts to send humans to the moon, according to Lemasters. The Vero woman was one of those people.
Less than a decade before the historic launch, President John F. Kennedy stirred the nation with his goal of putting a man on the moon. Lemasters and others, although working on different tasks, all had the same goal to make the mission a success.
“I’m grateful I was part of it,” Lemasters said. “The people made the program. It was that kind of dedication that was important to us. We wanted to make Kennedy’s goal come true.”
Working at NASA
Lemasters was a 32-year-old single mother when she began performing contract work for NASA. Lemasters said she started off as a secretary with the space agency and then ventured into public relations writing.
“We wanted everyone to understand what we were doing for Apollo,” said Lemasters, who was living in Melbourne at the time, just north of Indian River County. “They were wonderful years. It taught me the sense of hard work.”
Lemasters was tasked with writing news releases about upcoming launches and major tests, editing the manual for the launch countdown, writing speeches for facility managers and more. She also accommodated VIP guests at launch time, including some who did not speak English.
She informed guests on test runs at the Vehicle Assembly Building and the firing room.
The Vehicle Assembly Building, one of the largest buildings in the world, was built in 1966 to assemble large pre-manufactured space vehicle parts, including the Saturn V rocket and the space shuttle.
Through her writing, Lemasters continued to climb up the ladder at the space center, where she said men outnumbered women 200 to one. Lemasters said women were considered ‘safety hazards’ if they wore dresses on the launch platforms.
“Catcalls and disrespect welcomed the women who traversed the bays of the VAB,” Lemasters said.
But the job also brought other changes. Lemasters said she met her first husband at the Kennedy Space Center.
Her first husband was a fueling missile engineer who worked on different space programs, including Mercury, Gemini and Apollo, she said.
“We were a missile family,” Lemasters said. “My kids knew where to run outside and look to the sky,” during a launch, she said.
Lemasters said NASA would hold dinners for employees and their spouses a few days before launch. The best engineers from all over the world were brought in for the Apollo program, she said.
Lemasters said she has taken photos and interacted with some of the world’s most notable astronauts, including Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins.
The Apollo mission did have its setbacks. Just two years prior to the moon landing, three astronauts – Edward White, Virgil ‘Gus’ Grissom and Roger Chaffee, were killed in a fire in the Apollo Command Module during a pre-flight test at Cape Canaveral.
They were training for the first crewed Apollo flight.
Life after NASA
The Apollo Program had 16 successful launches from 1969 to 1972, and put more men on the moon after 1969. One launch, Apollo 13, failed to make it to the moon, but was able to successfully navigate back to earth.
The program ended in 1972.
After leaving NASA, Lemasters wrote for Harris Corporation, an aerospace and technology company, based in Melbourne. She remarried in the late 1970s to an executive at the company who later became president of the phone company ConTel.
Lemasters, retired, is a member of Impact 100, a women’s collective giving group that donates money and award grants to nonprofits in the community each year. Lemasters also serves on the board of directors for the John’s Island Club.
These days, Lemasters also focuses on spirituality. She conducts a seminar for Christian Science Church of Vero Beach called “Better Thinking for Better Living.”
Lemasters has a summer home in North Carolina where she says her three three adult daughters, Curran, Cathy and Cindy love to visit. The daughters are all in their 50s.
Lemasters also published a memoir detailing her journey working at the Kennedy Space Center during the Apollo program. The book, called ‘The Step,’ was released in 2016.
For Lemasters, being part of the Apollo mission is something she will never forget.
“They were all cheering for Apollo. Everyone in the world looked at that launch,” Lemasters said. “It was a great achievement for America.”
Photos provided by Martha Lemasters