Savannah woman was an engineer on Apollo 11 team

Marion Johnson. Source: WTOC
Marion Johnson. Source: WTOC
Updated: Jul. 18, 2019 at 5:35 PM EDT
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SAVANNAH, Ga. (WTOC) - Marion Johnson grew up on Chester Street on the west side of Savannah.

Her father nurtured her love for math by allowing her to calculate how much cement he needed to build sidewalks around the city in the 1950's. Little did he know that training and a math degree from Talladega College would lead to an engineering job at Boeing during a time when women nor blacks were typically accepted in that industry.

"I stepped out on faith and I got the job. If it wasn't for that, I wouldn't have gotten the job. There was something that said do it,” Johnson said.

That's what Johnson said during an interview months ago at Savannah State University. It happened around the same time that President John F. Kennedy announced the ambitious goal of sending an American safely to the moon before the end of the decade.

"I was put on a team and I worked with the team of engineers. We had a mission. The mission was to land this man on the moon, and we didn't have a lot of time to do it. We came out with a Mighty force. We worked hard. We worked on Saturdays. We worked afternoons and evenings until we got it right.” Johnson said.

The dream of President Kennedy, astronauts and teams of engineers came true on July 20, 1969, when Apollo 11 commander Neil Armstrong stepped off the Lunar Module's ladder and onto the moon's surface.

“When he stepped out and said, ‘this is one step for man and a giant leap for who? Mankind!’ We were on the money,” Johnson said. “It was a wonderful feeling!"

It was more than a feeling. Her history making work led to Johnson’s name being enshrined in the Apollo Saturn V Roll of Honor that's on display in the Smithsonian and The Library of Congress.

"That was a tremendous honor when I received it and my heart all I could say was thank God for my mentor. Thank God for my parents,” she said.

Despite that huge accomplishment, after the moon walk, Johnson left Boeing and went on to pursue her dream of a career where she could use her math skills to the fullest. She had a very successful career at Pfizer Corporation until she retired.

Then she taught math at a college.

To this day, she’s still teaching anyone who gives her a chance. Little do they know; this math whiz was the brains behind America getting a man on the moon.

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