My First Business Trip


Martha Lemasters, author of The Step, at work for IBM at the Kennedy Space Center during the Apollo Progam.

By the 1970s, pantyhose were a staple in every woman’s wardrobe. As more women headed into the workplace, sales of pantyhose grew. The only problem was that there wasn’t very good elastic in the waist and they would start to droop to your hips if you didn’t pull them up!

The day has finally arrived for my first business trip. I am to go to Bethesda, Maryland, just outside D.C., to sit in for the communications manager for one week. I am confident. I have learned to become assertive and stand up for my rights. I am so excited; I feel I’ve earned this trip. I know I’m a professional woman now. I’ve developed my creativity and knowledge. I pick out my best business suit to wear; every strand of hair is in place. Even my attaché case matches the overnight bag I carry. In short, Doris Day couldn’t look any more perfect for the part of a traveling professional woman.

I am to leave from the Melbourne airport, fly to Atlanta for a change to Washington, D.C. I check my suitcase, board the plane and I’m on my way. I expect the trip to be easy but once over Atlanta we have to circle the airport for more than an hour, slipping my boarding time for my next flight to D.C. I now have only three to four minutes to make that flight.

As I descend the stairs from the plane, I think I can make it. I am feeling important as I look around and see most of the passengers are men. I hold my head up high and then it happens. With my overnight case in one hand and my attaché case, as well as my huge handbag in another, the elastic in my pantyhose breaks. Hovering over I use both elbows to pinch each side of the pantyhose to keep them from falling down. Hurrying through the airport the vision is not exactly what would appear on the cover of New Woman Magazine. My 5’9” frame stooping over, elbows in place holding the pantyhose up and scurrying as fast as I can. I know I don’t have time to stop and take the pantyhose off because I will miss my flight. I finally make it to the plane. One of the flight attendants comes over and asks “Are you in pain”?

“No, I just need to get to the ladies room and remove these pantyhose.”

I’d been warned me about the D.C. airport: “It’s one of the most hectic airports you’ll ever go through. The secret is to get to the rental car agency and get out of the airport before the 5 p.m. rush-hour traffic begins.”

With these words ingrained in my thoughts, I make a beeline to the rental car agency as soon as I land. I get the keys and hurry to the huge parking lot. It takes me a while to even find the car; then I have trouble getting the car started. A man passes by and I ask him if he knows the secret to starting the car.

“You’ve got to have your seat belt on,” he says.

I feel so ignorant. But I think the procedure, obviously installed by the rental company, even more stupid. I get started and head out of Washington. I travel about 30 miles, happy that I’ve beaten the worst of traffic when it hits me. I have forgotten my suitcase! As I approach a road sign that reads Manassas, I realize I have also traveled south, instead of north. I travel for another few miles before I can get off and turn around to go back to the airport. My lips start to quiver, tears are coming down my face, destroying my image as a professional woman entirely.

As I pull up to the area designated for arriving passengers, the porter comes up to the window of my car and all my professionalism goes out the window. My chin is even quivering, my bottom lip protrudes and I just break out crying. “I left my luggage in the airport, drove 30 miles in the wrong direction and I don’t know how to get my luggage or even get out of this place and drive the right direction. Can you please help me”?

“Of course I can,” he says gently. “Let me have your claim ticket.” I quit sniffling, give him my ticket and wait in the car. In a short time, he returns with my suitcase and puts it in the back seat.

“Now, where is it you’re supposed to go,” he says.

“Bethesda,” I softly answer as I hand him a $10 tip. Well, so much for being professional.

I finally reach the six-story hotel and check in. It is December and I think it’s very cold but then I’m a Florida gal, I think it’s winter when the temperature reaches the fifties. The temperature is 31 and sinking according to the TV in my room. I decide to eat in the hotel restaurant not wanting to venture out on such a cold evening. After dinner I go to bed early to get a full night’s rest so I can make a dynamic impression with my energy and promptness the next morning.

Talk in the next room awakens me. I glance over at the red dial on the clock and see that its 2 a.m. I imagine the talking is from a late night party someone is having, as I can even smell the smoke from their cigars and cigarettes.

I plug some Kleenex into my ears and turn over hoping to fall back asleep. A loud siren jolts me out of bed. I suppose it’s someone stuck in the elevator. I put the pillow over my head but the sound is too penetrating. I pick up the phone and call the front desk. “Is someone caught in the elevator? The bell on my floor keeps ringing.”

“The hotel is on fire! Get a coat on and evacuate the building at once,” comes his frantic cry. I am dressed in my Florida-style shorty nightgown. My coat, also made for Florida, is thin and falls just below my waist. I packed my new bra and my new tennis racquet. It is a toss-up as to which item to grab to take with me. I put my coat on and grab my beloved racquet and purse and head out the door to the deafening sound of the siren. I am also barefooted and barelegged. The hallway is filled with men, some half-dressed, some half-asleep, some half-drunk, all very anxious. They all head to the elevator. “No,” I yell, remembering my safety training. “We have to take the stairs.” About 30 people cram down the stairs, jumping two and three steps at a time. Once outside I see five fire trucks surrounding the building. One is a hook and ladder, perched at the top floor with the fireman knocking on the window, trying to wake up the people inside.

It is freezing and there is no place to go inside. Out of the whole crowd of hundreds there are three women. At least they have on full-length warm coats. I notice the strange things that the crowd has managed to bring with them: bottles of scotch, whisky, shoes in hand. And I stand here with my racquet.

The fire department is providing oxygen to some of the people who have inhaled smoke. One fireman comes over and asks, if I need artificial respiration. I wonder why he is asking me that, I’m not coughing or slow of breath. I relate it to walking across the catwalk at the VAB.

About 30 minutes later a school bus is brought in for us to get out of the weather. There is no heat in the school bus but at least we can sit down. By dawn, we are told that we can’t go back into the hotel to get any belongings. I put a call into my work contact and tell him what’s happened. Then I utter the words that no professional woman wants to say. “I have no clothes, can you possibly ask around the office to see if someone in a size 12 can loan me a dress for just the day? Oh, and a pair of shoes in size 9.”

Gene, my contact, arrives in about an hour with a green and blue stripe dress and shoes. The shoes weren’t too bad. The dress was about two inches short-waisted and another two inches too short in length. It was also very tight around my hips. I looked like a refugee from Goodwill. Decked out like this, I drove the car to the building and head straight to the receptionist. I resolve to hold my head up and just get on with the day.

“Can you direct me to the Personnel Office,” I ask.

“Oh honey,” she replies, as she looks me up and then down. “We’re not hiring today.

You’ve Come a Long Way Baby…

Martha and IBMersI am reminded of a date in time: August 26, 1971. I was working at Kennedy Space Center (KSC) as a member of the Apollo Launch Support Team. At the behest of Rep. Bella Abzug (D-NY) Congress designated August 26 as “Women’s Equality Day.”

Thus began a massive, peaceful civil rights movement by women that had its formal beginnings in 1848 at the world’s first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York.

The observance of Women’s Equality Day not only commemorates the passage of the 19th Amendment, but also calls attention to women’s continuing efforts to gain full equality.

I had endured my own challenges in the 60’s and 70’s regarding women’s rights. Following my divorce, I couldn’t obtain a checking account unless my ex-husband signed for me. The very clothes I wore in performing my job as a writer at KSC were designated “safety hazards.”

I was also making much less money than my male counterparts as a PR writer. Yet, I knew that things would change; after all I worked for a very progressive company, IBM.

Betty Friedan’s international bestseller, “The Feminine Mystique” ignited my personal consciousness to what gender equality should mean in America and around the world.

Friedan challenged the assumption, at work and at home, that women should always be the ones who make the coffee, watch over the children, pick up after men and serve the meals.

On my own personal level, after years of proving myself and finally being promoted from secretary to write, I recall with great pleasure that same day that I refused to get coffee.

I was a workingwoman when women did not work outside the home. Some of my children’s friends were not allowed to even come to our home, because I wasn’t there to supervise.

Today, it’s common for both the husband and wife to work. Despite the increased workload of families, and even though 70 percent of American children now live in households where every adult in the home is employed, no major federal initiative to help workers accommodate their family and work demands have been passed.

Today, women are still paid less than men at almost every educational level and in almost every job category; they are less likely than men to hold jobs that offer flexibility or family-friendly benefits. When they become mothers, they face more scrutiny and prejudice on the job than fathers do.

We need to stop seeing work-family policy as a woman’s issue and start seeing it as a human rights issue that affects parents, children, partners, singles and elders.

Yes…we have come quite a way in gender equality since the 60’s and 70’s…but Baby, we’ve still got a long way to go!


Martha Lemasters is the author of “The Step…One Woman’s Journey to finding her own happiness and success during the Apollo Program.” She resides in Vero Beach FL and has a summer home in the Highlands area.



Excerpts from The Apollo Missions, by Jim Harroun

The following are excerpts from The Apollo Missions, written by Jim Harroun.

The historical, cultural and scientific significance of putting a human on the Moon is hard to overstate. It took the efforts of thousands of individuals to achieve such a feat, and it opened the heavens to possibilities never before imagined.

The Apollo 11 lunar landing was an international spectacle. Millions tuned in to watch the events unfold on television. At the time, the world was abuzz with talk of landing on the Moon and the possibilities of space travel. Today, the Apollo 11 mission is ingrained in humankind’s collective memory and an unforgettable moment in the world’s culture. It was, and forever will be, a testament to what can be achieved through science, engineering and a will to achieve.

More than 4000 IBMers worked tirelessly to help humankind put a person on the Moon. Countless others from NASA, contracting companies, government and the international community provided the technological, monetary and political resources necessary to achieve this unprecedented accomplishment. Below are the main groups of IBMers involved.


IBMers at the George Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, built the Saturn V instrument unit that launched the astronauts and put them on their course to the Moon.


CapeKennedyCape Kennedy
IBMers at Cape Kennedy, now Cape Canaveral, Florida, performed final system tests and helped launch the 3000-ton rocket with its 40-ton payload.


At NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center—now the Johnson Space Center—in Houston, Texas, IBMers worked beside flight directors to analyze the data that would navigate the astronauts from Earth’s orbit into lunar orbit and back again.

IBMers in Owego, New York, and other locations invented and built miniaturized integrated circuitry for the Saturn computer. They shrunk a computer the size of a restaurant refrigerator down to the size of an average briefcase—and made it rugged enough for space travel.


Goddard_small Goddard_largeGoddard
IBMers at the Goddard Space Flight Center near Washington, DC, developed the Goddard Real-Time Systems for the Apollo missions. Their computers processed data from radar stations, remote sites and tracking ships—a worldwide network to track the Apollo missions.


Landing the first two astronauts on the Moon in July of 1969 ranks as one of the great engineering achievements in human history.

The Apollo Missions in They Were There

Learn more about IBM’s role in NASA’s Apollo missions from an IBMer who helped make them possible in this clip from the IBM Centennial film, They Were There.

Four thousand IBM employees, most of them from the company’s Federal Systems Division, built the computers and wrote many of the complex software programs that launched the Apollo missions and guided them safely to Earth.

IBM engineers and technicians at the George Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, built the guiding instrument unit embedded in the giant Saturn rockets. At Cape Kennedy, now Cape Canaveral, in Florida, they performed final system tests and helped launch the 3000-ton rocket with its 40-ton payload. And at NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center (now called the Johnson Space Center) in Houston, Texas, they sat at consoles beside the NASA flight directors, making the minute-by-minute analyses needed to navigate the spacecraft from Earth orbit to lunar orbit and back.

More IBM employees at the Goddard Space Flight Center near Washington, DC, developed the worldwide network of relay stations and ships to track and communicate with the spacecraft. Employees at IBM in Owego, NY, and other locations invented and built the miniaturized integrated circuitry used to shrink the equivalent of an IBM ® System/360 mainframe down from the size of a refrigerator to that of a suitcase—and made it rugged enough to blast into space.

Gene Kranz was the flight director on duty on July 20, 1969, when astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin separated Apollo’s lunar module from the command/service module and began their successful descent to the surface of the moon. “The systems information that we used to make the go, no-go decisions was developed by IBM, and the ultimate go, no-go decision [that day] was provided to me by computers operated by IBM engineers within NASA’s Mission Control Center. Without IBM and the systems they provided, we would not have landed on the Moon.”

IBM acquired the skills and invented the tools needed for space flight over a 30-year span stretching back to the 1940s. The US Navy used an early IBM electromechanical calculator to compute the ballistic trajectories of artillery shells. In the late 1950s, the US Naval Research Laboratory employed an IBM 650 computer to solve the orbital math needed to launch small satellites. During this time, IBM built SAGE (Semi-Automatic Ground Environment) [Read more about this Icon of Progress], an early warning radar defense system, and began developing small, heavy-duty computers for bombers and US Strategic Air Command’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) Titan rockets.

By the time NASA began putting astronauts into Earth orbit with its Mercury and Gemini programs, IBM was there with a 60-pound space guidance computer. It used innovative three-dimensional, multilayer etched circuit boards to interconnect components, saving miles of wire and pounds of weight.

When the call came from Dr. Wernher Von Braun’s Saturn rocket development team, in search of a guidance system, IBM engineers took one of their Titan rocket computers and modified it for space launch conditions. They then put it in the back of a station wagon and drove it from Owego, New York, to the Marshall Space Center in Huntsville, Alabama, plugged it in, and ran it for a year without a glitch. NASA liked what they saw and invited IBM to bid on the critical guidance system for the Saturn.

NASA wanted a system with a guaranteed mean-time-between-failure of 25,000 hours, and a component density—number of transistors, circuits, semiconductors—of 45,000 per cubic foot. IBM came back with a design for a mean-time-between-failure of 40,000 hours and a component density of 250,000 per cubic foot. IBM won the contract and built 27 Saturn instrument units. Each unit became a 3-foot-high section of the 360-foot-long rocket, sitting on top of the third stage.

The IUs, as they were called, did their duty. On one of the early Saturn I flights, when one of the rocket’s eight engines failed, threatening the mission, the IU compensated for the change in thrust by adjusting the other seven engines, saving the flight. On Apollo 12, the Saturn V rocket was struck twice by lightning, temporarily knocking out communications with Mission Control and the flight instruments in the astronauts’ command/service module. The IU, however, kept on working and kept the rocket on course.

Much less visible was the IBM army of programmers and systems analysts who pioneered the bridge between the theory of celestial mechanics and the prosaic numbers needed to launch the expedition, see it gently land on a moving target 240,000 miles away, and bring it back to within a few miles of a recovery ship in the Pacific Ocean.

IBM programmers at the Marshall Space Center and Cape Kennedy helped build the IUs and write the programs that launched the Saturn rockets into translunar trajectory. Programs written by the team at Goddard established a worldwide tracking network of 17 stations and four ships that followed and communicated with the spacecraft.

And at Mission Control in Houston, a large group of engineers and programmers worked with five IBM System/360 Model 75 computers in NASA’s Real Time Computer Complex. Every bit of data on the mission’s velocity, flight path angle, and time and position of impact was monitored and calculated constantly. The re-entry trajectory for Apollo 11—which had to hit a narrow six degree line of flight to safely return to earth—was calculated and recalculated some 400 times during the mission.

Apollo 11, with Armstrong, Aldrin and command module pilot Michael Collins aboard, landed in the Pacific Ocean on July 24, 15 miles from its recovery ship. Before the program ended in 1975, Apollo made six lunar landings, and twelve astronauts walked on the Moon. It is the only time in history that humans have visited another celestial body.

The very day Apollo 11 splashed down in the Pacific, Bob Evans, who was president of the IBM Federal Systems Division, wrote a letter to his employees: “Certainly Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins, as well as all of the other astronauts, must be recognized as courageous and skillful men of the highest order. But we must not forget that the men who walked on the Moon were members of a far larger team. … I take enormous pride in knowing that 4000 members of the team were IBM men and women of the Federal Systems Division.”


History Forgotten: My Letter to the President & CEO of IBM


Blast off!

Blast off!

One of the main reasons I felt compelled to write my memoir The Step was to insure all of the hard working men and women who helped bring Apollo to fruition received proper credit. So much of the story has been forgotten in the history books. Our children learn the names of the astronauts, but have no concept of what a monumental accomplishment the Apollo project was, how many people were involved, or how crucial winning the space race was to the status of the US globally. I worked for IBM at Cape Kennedy, and I was disappointed to see upon visiting the company website, that it too had skipped over the contributions it’s employees made to the project. The following is my letter to IBM’s President & CEO.


Dear Ms Rometty,

I enjoyed almost ten years working for IBM at Cape Kennedy on the Apollo program. In looking up IBM’s website depicting its history from 1930-1979, I found only the following sentence about IBM ‘s commitment to our space program. “The latter half of the 1960’s saw IBM continue its support of space exploration, participating in the 1965 Gemini flights, 1966 Saturn flights and 1969 lunar mission.”

Several of my retired IBM friends have urged me to write you about a part of IBM history that you might not be aware. It’s all part of my book, The Step, which I am confident will also be made into a major motion picture. It deals with the IBM Apollo launch support team at Kennedy Space Center in the 60’s and 70’s.

As it states on the back cover, “The names of the astronauts will forever be inscribed in our history books, but the names of the entire Apollo launch support team at the Kennedy Space Center and the thousands who supported Apollo elsewhere will only be known to a few.

“It is the technical team, the engineers, analysts, programmers, and yes, even the secretaries and typists who kept the administrative side moving, who are portrayed in this book. This combined team, after achieving an unbelievable goal of launching men on the moon within the 10-year limit set by Kennedy, performed in an exemplary manner.”

I believe they were the greatest technological team ever assembled, achieving the most difficult challenge of all mankind to date. I speak from experience; I was a PR writer for IBM, coming up from the ranks of secretary and finally to a writing position. I wrote about these people. I know the sacrifices …the commitment was intense. There were Apollo IBMers at the Cape, Houston, Huntsville, Owego and Gaithersburg. In the Epilogue section, I added the following historical notes:

“Following the Apollo Program, including Skylab and Apollo/Soyuz, IBM won the Space Shuttle Launch Processing contract, as well as two other key Shuttle systems: Spacelab Integration, with McDonnell-Douglas, and Cargo Integration Test Equipment. A third group at KSC (Shuttle Test & Operations) supported Shuttle launches.

“Under the leadership of CEO Louis Gerstner, Jr., the Federal Systems Division of IBM, whose employees had excelled in all aspects of this country’s space program, was sold in 1994 to Loral Corporation much to the dismay of NASA and the heartbreak of thousands of IBMers. In 1995, Loral sold its defense electronics and systems integration business to Lockheed Martin. The following year, several of those former Loral units were spun off by Lockheed Martin to become the core of L-3 Communications. “

My closing words of The Step include: “I hope I’ve given you a small glimpse into what it was like for a woman working among all that testosterone of dedicated engineers, and astronauts, and everyday people…all committed to a national goal…in those unforgettable years…when IBM’s banner was never flown higher, nor shined brighter, than the years of Apollo…when we all had “The Step.”

Recently I took my cousin on a NASA bus tour through Kennedy Space Center. There on display was the giant Saturn V vehicle, separated into stages but nowhere were the names of the contractors displayed…it was as if NASA had done everything. The lack of recognition for the contractors doesn’t change history and the fact that there were many unsung heroes, brilliant systems engineers, analysts, programmers, doing things that had never been done before, toiling away behind the scenes that made this momentous, game-changing feat happen.

Now, NASA is constructing a new building, entitled “Heroes and Legends,” again dedicated to the astronauts. When I was asked to write down my thoughts about the tour, I wrote, “If you really want to get the Visitor’s Center correct, the history has to be accurate. If it were me, I’d dedicate a whole wing to The Team, who achieved an unbelievable goal. That wing should include all the contractors’ names. This amazing team, made up of the very brightest and best that America had to offer, is the team that time has forgotten.

Recently I watched the movie, Jobs, the story of Steve Jobs’ life. In one scene, he makes the statement that the launch of Macintosh was the second greatest thing to happen in this century, behind the Allies winning World War II. Well, he was wrong, the incident that wins is the launch of men to the moon and safely returning them home. IBM was a crucial part of that history. I implore you to read my book and ask yourself why in the world doesn’t IBM embrace this history?


Martha Lemasters

The Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Center, an Inadequate Portrayal of the Apollo Program

Some of the many IBMers who worked at Cape Kennedy during the early 60's.

Some of the many IBMers who worked at Cape Kennedy during the early 60’s.

Have you ever visited the Kennedy Space Center Visitors Center near Titusville? What did you think of it?

I recently visited and as a former member of the Launch Support Team at KSC during the 60’s and 70’s I found the visit to the Saturn V exhibit heart breaking. As I glanced at the vehicle there was no indications whatsoever of who the contractors were for each stage of the Saturn V. Apollo was a “team effort”; NASA did not accomplish this mission all by themselves! I brought family members to see where I worked…imagine my dismay when there is not one word anywhere about Boeing, North American, McDonnell-Douglas, IBM, etc.

When I worked at the Cape there were probably 17,000 people there, and out of that number only 3,000 were NASA employees. What about the rest of us? You’re talking about the greatest technological team ever assembled, achieving the most difficult challenge of all mankind to date!

The names of the astronauts will forever be inscribed in our history books, but the names of the entire Apollo Launch Support team will only be know to a few. Yet, here you are now dedicating an entire building to Heroes and Legends…again just about the astronauts.

If NASA really wants to get this place right…the history has to be right. Why not dedicate a whole wing to The Team, who after achieving an unbelievable goal of putting men on the moon within the 10-year limit set by Kennedy, performed in an exemplary manner…Possibly the greatest team ever assembled.

As a result of my letter, and I’m sure many others as well, NASA has now assigned plaques to each of the stages depicting the contractors’ names who were responsible!




Did you ever work on the Apollo Program? If you did, I consider you a part of the greatest engineering team ever assembled. That team achieved the most difficult engineering challenge of all mankind to date…you’re right up there in great achievements with the Allies who won World War II.

I’d love to hear about some of your Apollo experiences…what was your title…what did you specialize in? Where did you work? What happened to you after the Apollo Program ended? Where did you go? Contact me with your story at

A memoir about the historic years of NASA’s Apollo program at KSC

My book, The Step, a memoir about my years working on the Apollo Program, will be available through your favorite bookstore, or online, beginning Tuesday, April 5th or at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, Chapters, Indie Books, and Powell’s. You can also order advance copies through this website by late February, or March 2016.

Martha Lemasters The Step

The names of the astronauts will forever be inscribed in our history books, but the names of the entire Apollo launch support team at the Kennedy Space Center and the thousands who supported Apollo elsewhere will only be known to a few.

It is the technical team, the engineers, analysts, programmers, and yes, even the secretaries and typists who kept the administrative side moving, who are portrayed in this book. This combined team, after achieving an unbelievable goal of putting men on the moon within the 10-year limit set by Kennedy, performed in an exemplary manner. Some believe they were the greatest technological team ever assembled, achieving the most difficult challenge of all mankind to date.

The Apollo team faced challenges and temptations like anyone else in the 60’s: divorce, affairs, deaths, three shifts of work schedules, as well as women’s issues, but they also knew how to have fun along the way. Choruses were formed, humorous skits brought laughs to facility dinners, and tennis bets of a lifetime played out on an Apollo stage with human lives on the line, etched with historic backdrops.

What was it like to be a part of this history-making event of launching our astronauts to the moon? Fasten your seat belts and journey back to the 60’s for a front-row seat by someone who experienced it all.

Martha Lemasters, author of The Step

As a marketing communications writer, it was my job to write about the people who made up IBM’s launch support team for the Apollo Program at Kennedy Space Center. IBM’s Instrument Unit was the brain of the Saturn V vehicle that guided our astronauts on the right trajectory to the moon. These IBMers played a critical role on one of the greatest technical teams ever assembled in American history. My book, The Step, tells about some of the stories that occurred during this period, including the heartaches, failures, losses and challenges to my teammates and myself.

Welcome to my website! You’ll find excerpts from my book as well as additional photos not included in the book.


Earthrise from Lunar Surface