Woman recalls NASA job lifelong friendship with astronaut

February 24, 2019 GMT

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. (AP) — When 94-year-old Margaret Gsell looks at the moon, she remembers the most interesting period of her life.

Gsell worked as an illustrator at NASA in the late 1960s, perhaps into the early 70s, when the space agency was focused on getting to the moon. She’s not sure of the exact years now, 50 years later, but she is sure of what her experiences at that time have meant to her life.

“Every time I see the moon up there nowadays I always think, my friends have walked around up there,” the Chambersburg woman said, sitting in front of a wall of photos and memorabilia celebrating her astronaut friends at her Menno Haven cottage.


‘Privileged’ friendships

She gained a lifelong friend in astronaut Eugene “Gene” Cernan, who was the last astronaut to walk on the moon, in 1972. She knew Neil Armstrong, famously the first to walk on the moon, as well as Buzz Aldrin, Frank Borman and other stars of NASA and American history.

“I did meet an awful lot of them, which I considered a privilege, because a lot of people worked at NASA and never, ever came in contact with the astronauts. Even in my own office I was the only one that really had a chance to actually work with them.”

She was at NASA no longer than four years, but Gsell said she stayed friends with Cernan until his death in January 2017. He was a true friend, she said, and it made her feel special that he seemed to feel the same way about her as she did about him.

Gsell’s relationship with Cernan started at a dinner celebrating the 1966 end of the Gemini program. NASA asked her to create a piece featuring the logos of the Gemini missions, to be given to the heads of the program. Gsell decided to make an extra to keep, and she took it to the dinner to get the living Gemini astronauts to sign it.

Cernan was the second or third one she came to. He said the poster could get dirty, so if she brings it to his office Monday, he’ll see to it that everyone signs it. Today, Gsell proudly displays the piece at her home.

From that point on, Gsell made rather frequent visits to his office. But she always made sure she came with a purpose, so as to not become a nuisance.

The astronauts all shared their offices with one of the others. Cernan was office mates with Armstrong when Gsell made her last visit there before leaving Houston, Texas to take a federal government job in Washington, D.C. She posed with each history-making astronaut, while the other took a photo. Today, she has both displayed on her wall, separated by a poem she wrote about the moon.


Job application misplaced

As a NASA illustrator, Gsell was tasked with illustrating diagrams of parts to help astronauts conduct their important work in space.

“I always felt very proud, the stuff I was doing was going on flights around the moon or to the moon.”

She almost never got the opportunity to work at NASA. Gsell’s husband at the time worked in the personnel department there when she decided her twin daughters were old enough for her to go to work. She gave him an application and, hoping to get into the art department, some samples of her art.

But her husband wasn’t crazy about her working.

“I didn’t hear anything, didn’t hear anything and finally somebody popped up from his office and said, ‘Oh, we just found your application down behind a filing cabinet.’ So, they hired me.”

After a stint in the mailing and records department, Gsell became an illustrator. And the rest is history.

“It was exciting because I had the feeling that I had just a tiny, tiny part in a big, wonderful thing that was happening. It made me feel special.”




Information from: Public Opinion,