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Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who…

Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the… (edition 2017)

by Nathalia Holt (Author)

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Title:Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars
Authors:Nathalia Holt (Author)
Info:Back Bay Books (2017), Edition: Reprint, 352 pages
Collections:Your library

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



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I have a saying I often include as a prelude to a forwarded social media posting boasting of the historical accomplishments of a woman: "Women never did anything but support their history-making husbands." The prelude is sarcastic and a biting response to a history professor (male) who replied to my question, 'Where were the women?' with the statement, 'They were busy taking care of their husbands and families and didn't have time to contribute to the advances chronicled in history.' Since that response by an obviously ignorant and uncreative individual who nevertheless held a PhD, I made it a point to discover women's contributions. Today, many wonderful authors share my fever for an answer to my question, 'Where were the women?', with a dogged determination that impresses me beyond words. I consider the mother of my women's history movement to be historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich. Ulrich gave us the immensely reproduced quote, "Well-behaved women seldom make history." Ulrich is also the author of A Midwife's Tale taking diaries of a c1800 New England midwife...diaries no historian before Ulrich had thought of as important...to piece together an intricately detailed and much celebrated history of a small New England town. Now we know the answer to my question. Women were making history. Their accomplishments simply were not chronicled beyond their own hands. Add Rise of the Rocket Girls as a tribute to the history-making women whose contributions to our space exploration history are only recorded among the stars and not the history books. Literally, among the stars, as their lines of intricate mathematical programming continue to work within the technology of such advances as the Hubble Telescope and Voyager craft of the Juno mission that orbited Jupiter in June 2016.

Why have we never heard of these women? Because they were hired to serve as mathematical work horses. These women were hired to do the difficult, intricate, painstakingly precise equations, by hand, of rocket designs, rocket thrust, module trajectories, control systems, landing systems, and numerous other details that allowed men to walk on the moon and a rover to explore Mars. Eventually, these women became the engineers who wrote the copious amounts of computer code that were used to engineer the International Space Station and the Space Shuttle. These women worked alongside the men who were recognized for their efforts, though the women rarely received any public acclaim. So much were these tremendous women obscured from history, JPL, the company they helped start, demoted one of its long-time, long-admired, brilliant women engineers to an hourly wage (because she didn't hold an advanced degree) and none of the women were even invited to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Explorer I honoring esteemed male guests. These women...these fantastic, phenomenal, genius women...were simply left off the invitation list to celebrate the satellite they helped successfully create. When will we learn? Women are not part of history because they are deliberately written out of it.

I am grateful Holt brought these women out of obscurity. This is a book that MUST be read. The stories of these women must be recognized and remembered. It is proof that women made history, though to find their contributions one may have to let go of biases in order to look in different and unique spaces. ( )
1 vote Christina_E_Mitchell | Sep 9, 2017 |
The author's style is to recount events from people's lives as if she is witnessing them in person ("god view"). While I appreciate that this brings drama and realism to the account, the amount of specific detail in the reconstruction of events went beyond what works for me in non-fiction.

The book also has a similar challenge to that in Dava Sobel's Glass Universe, which is a very large cast of characters making the thread of the story difficult to follow.
  rakerman | Aug 24, 2017 |
For the younger generations who have grown up with personal computers and tiny calculators that perform complex mathematical calculations this book will come as an eye-opener. Even for myself (I can remember programming a main frame computer by punch card), it was inspiring to think that before electronic calculators there was only paper and pencil and slide rules to do the math that calculated trajectories for rockets. This year's movie "Hidden Figures" told the story of one group of females involved in the space race but on the other side of the US there were more women "computers" doing their bit. This is their story.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) was a small and crazy workshop in the 1940s that wanted to develop rockets to propel airplanes and they needed someone good with numbers to do all the calculations. They hired one woman and then another and then more. These women had to work in an unheated building in the hills above Pasadena right beside the testing grounds. They became a tight-knit group who could be relied upon to take the raw data and produce the calculations for thrust and velocity for all manner of rockets. Unlike the women in Hidden Figures they didn't work on the manned missions but their work led the way for the Apollo missions. They also worked on the missions that sent spacecraft to the other planets of the solar system and further. They put in long hours when required and also had homes and children and churches and husbands that required their attention. They were eventually given the job title of engineer but male engineers made more intially. Just a few years ago NASA decided that engineers had to have an advanced degree and they demoted a woman who had been an employee for 50 years to an hourly wage because she didn't have a degree. They had to reverse the decision when they learned that because of the hours she worked she was making even more money than before.

The writing of this book was not at all dry because the human stories were mixed in with the technological explanations. There are also lots of great pictures that show the women and the equipment. I would recommend this to anyone interested in women's history or the space race or changing technology or fans of Hidden Figures. ( )
1 vote gypsysmom | Jun 8, 2017 |
I want to really like this book, but it was just ok. The author's vacillation between the factual-biography and intimate-portrait tones was jarring and were never completely reconciled. Also, only two or three of the women were complete characters and kept my interest.

What I did like about the book was the information about what the women actually did: plotting orbits and trajectories and high-level programming on computers from the earliest models up through almost the present day. ( )
  Bodagirl | May 9, 2017 |
History of women's involvement at JPL as computers and then later programmers and engineers. One of whom, Sue Finley, is still there, 59 years and counting. Strongest in evoking what the experience was like for them working in that era, which is in some ways completely alien, e..g., the annual beauty pageant until 1970, imagine if there was a "Miss Google" today. Could have used more technical editing, e.g., the author seems to think Grace Hopper's compilers were hardware. ( )
  encephalical | Mar 31, 2017 |
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I did not come to NASA to make history. - Sally Ride
Why do we, the solar sails, fragile as a feather's frond, silently seek to sail so far? We walk the air from here to planet out beyond Because we're more than fond of life and what we are. - Ray Bradbury and Jonathan V. Post - To Sail Beyond the Sun
For Larkin and our little rocket girls, Eleanor and Philippa
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0316338923, Hardcover)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Sat, 23 Jan 2016 12:07:18 -0500)

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