Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars

Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars

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by Nathalia Holt
     
 

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The riveting true story of the women who launched America into space.

In the 1940s and 50s, when the newly minted Jet Propulsion Laboratory needed quick-thinking mathematicians to calculate velocities and plot trajectories, they didn't turn to male graduates. Rather, they recruited an elite group of young women who, with only pencil, paper, and

Overview

The riveting true story of the women who launched America into space.

In the 1940s and 50s, when the newly minted Jet Propulsion Laboratory needed quick-thinking mathematicians to calculate velocities and plot trajectories, they didn't turn to male graduates. Rather, they recruited an elite group of young women who, with only pencil, paper, and mathematical prowess, transformed rocket design, helped bring about the first American satellites, and made the exploration of the solar system possible.

For the first time, Rise of the Rocket Girls tells the stories of these women—known as "human computers"—who broke the boundaries of both gender and science. Based on extensive research and interviews with all the living members of the team, Rise of the Rocket Girls offers a unique perspective on the role of women in science: both where we've been, and the far reaches of space to which we're heading.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Incredible....Holt unveils this forgotten history with nuance and insight."
Laurel Raymond, Think Progress
Library Journal
★ 03/15/2016
In her latest offering, Holt (Cured: The People Who Defeated HIV) turns her attention to the women who served as "human computers"—people who computed data—for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), focusing on the laboratory's inception in the 1940s through the 1960s. These women did not occupy the usual positions open to females at the time (secretaries, nurses, or teachers) but instead worked alongside engineers to calculate trajectories, identify how rocket fuel could make missiles fly, and analyze vast experimental data. The book discusses JPL's evolution from an army-funded missile lab to its place in the NASA space program, and how each stage in the transition affected the lives and work of the individuals who would later become computer programmers and engineers themselves. Holt focuses on key figures in the JPL computing department, offering a personalized look at these unconventional women and their roles in launching humanity skyward. VERDICT Holt seamlessly blends the technical aspects of rocket science and mathematics with an engaging narrative, making for an imminently readable and well-researched work. Highly recommended to readers with an interest in the U.S. space program, women's history, and 20th-century history. [See "Editors' Spring Picks," LJ 2/15/16, p. 28.]—Crystal Goldman, Univ. of California, San Diego Lib.
Kirkus Reviews
2016-01-10
The history of women as vital contributors to advancements in early space exploration. In this engaging history and group biography, science journalist Holt (Cured: How the Berlin Patients Defeated HIV and Forever Changed Medical Science, 2014) reveals the significance of the young women mathematicians who staffed the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Beginning in the 1940s, women who had been the only females in college mathematics and chemistry classes found themselves part of an eager team of scientists and engineers whose first project was to produce "a new weapon, a long-range jet-propelled missile that could carry a thousand-pound warhead for a hundred miles at a speed capable of eluding an enemy fighter aircraft." Drawing on interviews with surviving team members, Holt traces the frustrations, failures, and successes of rocket development before computers came on the scene. Working with pencils, graph paper, and notebooks, it took one woman a day to calculate a single rocket's trajectory, plotting the path in a hand-drawn picture. Sometimes they used a Friden calculator, a heavy, unwieldy mechanism that vibrated noisily. When the IBM 704 computer—weighing more than 30,000 pounds and costing $2 million—arrived in the late 1950s, the JPL staff was suspicious. "The engineers and computers preferred to do their calculations by hand," writes the author, "not trusting the massive machines that had too many glitches to be trustworthy." After Russia sent Sputnik into space, the JPL pressed for funds to develop a satellite, frustrated that Eisenhower's administration "worried that the space race might turn into the space war." They were jubilant when they were finally able to work on unmanned missions. Besides chronicling the development of America's space program, Holt recounts the women's private lives—marriages, babies, and the challenge of combining motherhood and work—gleaned from her interviewees' vivid memories. A fresh contribution to women's history.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780316338929
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
04/05/2016
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
15,843
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.50(d)

Meet the Author

Nathalia Holt is the author of Cured: The People Who Defeated HIV and a former Fellow at the Ragon Institute of Massachusetts General Hospital, MIT, and Harvard University. Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Slate, Popular Science, and Time. She lives in Boston.

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Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us from Missiles to the Moon to Mars 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Amazing true stories of the women who were the backbone of rocketry, missles, satellites and all aspects of space exploration. The scientific research Ms. Holt had to do in an area outside of her area of expertise must have been daunting, but the joy she takes in conveying the history of missions such as Voyager and Magellan and how female engineers were essential to their success is truly mind-boggling. Great photos, too! I hated to turn the last page. Kudos to Ms. Holt and also to the Rocket Girls!
ChasF0 9 months ago
An interesting book, but sloppily written. The book does not follow a coherent time line, but seems to jump decades between some paragraphs. Of course, some of the dates mentioned may be among the many proof reading errors, but it is hard to tell. There are numerous technical errors also. As an emotional history documenting the significant contribution of a group of women to the advancement of technologies that were crucial to the success of the space program. A great book deserves to be written about their achievements. However this book is not it.
RWLJ More than 1 year ago
This is a fantastic book! The author does a wonderful job of blending the science, history, and personal stories surrounding the trailblazing women working at JPL from its inception to present day. The wealth of information gathered from what must have been an intense period of research is presented in a manner making it accessible, easy to read and understand, as well as inspirational. Thanks you, Nathalia Holt for sharing these amazing stories. I highly recommend this book!