McMINNVILLE, TN (WSMV) - Warren County may be the tree nursery capitol of the world, but something you won’t see on a welcome sign here is what a McMinnville woman accomplished to get Apollo 11 off the ground 50 years ago.
Rachel Elkins Killebrew had reason to scream and cheer. She was one of the few women who was a part of the Apollo launch team responsible for the first footsteps on the moon.
She studied math and German at Tennessee Tech, a double major put her on the radar of NASA.
She worked with the father of the moon mission, Werner Van Braun, in Huntsville, AL, in 1963.
"It was amazing, they were so dedicated and so smart, and detailed about everything," said Killebrew.
By 1969 when Apollo 11 was ready for launch, she was moved to Cape Canaveral, FL, as a computer programmer/analyst, the program guided the astronauts to the moon.
The fate of the astronauts fell on Killebrew’s team to check out Apollo before launch.
"Everything had to work together, that was the checkout part, and then the launch," said Killebrew.
It was the day of Apollo's launch – July 16, 1969 – that Killebrew held her breath.
"I always breathe easy when I see that top swing arm go back. It won't go back if everything has not checked out," said Killebrew.
As a woman, Killebrew knew she was a trail blazer. It put additional pressure on her.
"I didn't want to do anything that would be bad for women that followed me, and I'm so proud and glad to see more women involved in everything," said Killebrew.
When you consider there is more computing power in your cell phone than what was aboard Apollo 11, the story is even more incredible.