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Rosie Beaudrot Graham '67 Recalls Queens as Launching Pad to Career with NASA

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07/11/17 -  

In the spring, Queens hosted retired NASA astronaut Captain Scott Kelly. But many are unaware that he hasn't been the only stellar figure to grace Queens.

Captain Kelly's year-long mission may not have been possible without people like Rosie Beaudrot Graham '67, who was a NASA programmer when Apollo 11 launched in July 1969. As a member of the Houston team, she signed up for a time slot to visit mission control during the spaceflight.

"It was pure luck," she says, "that I was in the room when Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon."Graham returned to campus for her 50th reunion in April, and recalled with a smile that Queens was considered a safe place for a girl to go to college back in the '60s. "Safe it was, but our professors meant business," she says. "They clearly expected us to get out in the world and pursue our careers."

Which she did.

After earning a master's degree at UNC, Graham was hired by IBM to work for NASA in Houston. As one of 30 women on a team of 630 programmers, it was still the era of "hidden figures," Graham says. "We had a dress code-suits, skirts or dresses. We were not offered management positions that the men were given, because we might 'leave and get married.' And the men often thought we were the secretaries."It was a thrilling time nonetheless, sending men to the moon using five IBM 360 mainframes with one megabyte of memory each-your iPhone has 1,000 times the memory of those 360 mainframes.

Graham worked with NASA until 1974, designing, developing and testing software, working on the space shuttle planning team, and teaching-good preparation for her later years as a college professor in Tennessee. "Looking back" she says, "I see that time with NASA as the high point of my career."

Rosie Graham says she watched "Hidden Figures" with understanding and emotion. "Those brilliant women used their skills and knowledge to gain the respect they deserved. They led the cause for all of us."

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