N. West was truly a pioneer. In the 1940s, she was the first female
consulting geologist in the Oklahoma City area, being described
by The Daily Oklahoman as a "feminine fossil finder."
She was the first woman geologist to be hired by the U.S. Geological
Survey in Arizona. She was the first woman astrogeologist--a geologist
of other worlds. In fact, Mareta West was the lunar geologist
at NASA who determined the crucial site for the first landing
on the moon.
Not surprisingly, Mareta was a descendant of American pioneers.
In 1889 her grandparents arrived in Indian Territory, now the
state of Oklahoma. Like her parents, Mareta was raised in Oklahoma,
specifically in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.
She earned a B.S. in geology at the University of Oklahoma and
was a member of Kappa Kappa Gamma Fraternity. She was employed
as a petroleum geologist with an oil company until she was hired
by the U.S. Geological Survey.
Like her ancestors, Mareta was instrumental in opening new territories.
She became involved with the U.S. space program where she participated
in the evaluation and selection of landing sites on other worlds.
These landing sites were for manned and unmanned missions to the
moon, and for unmanned missions to Mars.
In 1969, Mareta was the only woman on NASA's Geology Experiment
Team for the first lunar landing, Apollo 11. It was Mareta who
pinpointed the exact landing spot on the moon for the fragile
lunar lander called Eagle. According to a newspaper interview
with her sister, Lorene Sellers, Mareta watched the historic moon
landing from the space center in Houston. She stayed on for the
splashdown of the Apollo capsule and return of the astronauts,
then studied the information and photographs the astronauts brought
back. Lorene was quoted as saying, "I think it's marvelous
for women to have such an exciting part in a space program."
When asked if Mareta would fly to the moon, Lorene responded enthusiastically,
"Yes, I think she would go."
Mareta studied and revised lunar maps after the Apollo 11 landing
and selected the landing sites for other manned missions to the
She was recognized for her work by NASA with the award of a specially
designed mug that displayed the Apollo 11 mission patch and the
astronauts' autographs. (In 1999, on the 30th anniversary of the
historic moon landing, the mold for the mug was broken as a final
tribute to the entire team who made the first moon landing possible.)
For her notable work for the space program, Mareta was also awarded
the Alumnae Achievement Award by Kappa Kappa Gamma and was featured
on the cover of the fraternity's magazine. Inside she stated,
"I had the good fortune to be involved in the mapping of
the site chosen for the first landing, Apollo 11. My map was used
in astronaut training and actually made the trip to the Moon."
Yet for all her accomplishments, Mareta was known as a gentle,
unassuming woman. A newspaper interview in the 1940s described
her as "fashionably dressed" and her apartment as "decorated
with lovely traditional furnishings which show her taste for beauty."
She collected antique glass and china, and enjoyed music and art.
"I enjoy beauty in almost anything," she was quoted
As a geologist, Mareta traveled much in her life. And it seemed
she would travel even after her death. Her sister Lorene took
Mareta's ashes and was on her way to scatter them when she was
killed tragically in an automobile accident. As it turns out,
Mareta will finally be traveling into space where she had first
set her sights so long ago.
"The study of this subject [geology] imparts
to an individual an excellent sense of perspective and helps
to achieve a balance between a feeling of personal worth and
the realization that a lifetime is scarcely an instant in the
history of our planet . . . I favor without reservation the
American effort in space . . . An understanding of planetary
bodies is essential to deciphering much of what remains unknown
about our own planet."
--Mareta N. West
"I can think of nothing that would be more
suitable or would have pleased Lorene more than having Mareta's
remains travel into space."
-- family friend, Marilyn "Lyn" Bohon