Chattanooga native reflects on work for Apollo 11
This week marks 50 years since the Apollo 11 mission landed a man on the moon. It took thousands of people, including Chattanooga’s own Jane Wooley, to accomplish the mission.
Wooley teaches exercise classes 4 days a week at CHI Memorial, in the cardiac rehab center. But in 1969, she was part of a team of programmers working on Apollo 11.
CHI’s cardiac rehab director, Alan Lewis, says that experience makes her a great instructor.
"She is a great role model,” Lewis said. “Her past was she was a woman involved with the space program. But now she's a great role model because she works as an instructor for us in cardio-pulmonary rehab."
Boeing recruited Wooley fresh out of college. She tells me most of the Apollo 11 programmers were young and eager to make a difference.
"In your twenties, there's nothing you can't do. You think you can do anything. And that's what it took to get us to the moon quite frankly,” she said.
Wooley played her part by writing software. Her code helped made the swing arm of the Saturn V craft move, and helped the vehicle roll 30 seconds after lift-off. She says that's what she really wanted to do.
"All I wanted to do was write code to implement differential equations and I was having a blast doing it."
Wooley says working as a young woman among mostly men could be frustrating.
"There were a thousand programmers and there were ten of us that were females,” she said. “You had to work harder. You had to be better. And people were not rude to you, but it mattered."
Looking back half a century later, Wooley's stories put the mission in perspective for Lewis.
"There were so many good things that came out of that but the stories are probably the best part,” he said. “How did we do that and who was involved?"
Wooley says as she thinks about the anniversary, she can't believe it happened at all.
"I'm thinking wow, I did that. It's almost unbelievable,” Wooley said. “It's like wasn’t I sure I did that. If I didn’t have these artifacts I'm not sure I'd believe I'd done that.”
But that mission did happen. Wooley's code did make a difference.
And 50 years ago this weekend, her work helped Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walk on the moon.