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

by Nathalia Holt

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6963228,242 (3.82)41
During World War Il, when the brand-new minted Jet Propulsion Laboratory needed quick-thinking mathematicians to calculate jet velocities and plot missile trajectories, they recruited an elite group of young women--known as "computers"--who, with only pencil, paper, and mathematical prowess, transformed rocket design and helped bring about America's first ballistic missiles. But they were never interested in developing weapons--their hearts lay in the dream of space exploration. So when JPL became part of a new agency called NASA, the computers worked on the first probes to the moon, Venus, Mars, and beyond. Later, as digital computers largely replaced human ones, JPL was unique in training and retaining its brilliant pool of women. They became the first computer programmers and engineers, and through their efforts, we launched the ships that showed us the contours of our solar system. For the first time, this book tells the stories of these women who charted a course not only for the future of space exploration but also for the prospects of female scientists. Based on extensive research and interviews with the living members of the team, Rise of the Rocket Girls offers a unique perspective on the role of women in science, illuminating both where we've been and the far reaches of where we're heading.--Adapted from dust jacket.… (more)
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» See also 41 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
Yuck.

To me, it is nearly invaluable that someone took the initiative to track down the surviving JPL 'human computers' and get their stories. That's something that isn't on record anywhere, and that history, particularly various anecdotes they may have from that time period, is very intriguing.

But, yeesh. The way it was put together and the items the author chose to highlight drove me insane. I gave it two stars only because there are, in fact, good bits of information to be found. I do have to applaud the author for getting these women together again. But most of it felt like such a waste of a golden opportunity.

The author spends the majority of the book talking about whichever "rocket girl" is being focused on and her hair, her clothes, her boyfriend/husband, her children, her troubles at home, etc. I'm sure that plays a part, but I really would have liked that to take more of a backseat. The interesting info about JPL felt more like asterisks at the bottom of the page.

I majored in engineering, and I've worked for NASA. I've been the only female in many situations. I support giving these ladies a spotlight. I just think this book is so busy hamming up their gender that it forgets to fully illuminate their accomplishments. The idea isn't to say, "Look, we're girls!" The idea is to say, "Yeah. We're awesome."

(Another book released recently, [b:The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars|29496512|The Glass Universe How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars|Dava Sobel|https://images.gr-assets.com/books/1465672020s/29496512.jpg|49782569] does a much better job of this, for anyone interested. Though I warn it hits the other extreme for any not really keen on the subject. It is quite information and background heavy.) ( )
  Allyoopsi | Jun 22, 2022 |
Women who worked as computers and programmers at JPL
  fernig | May 4, 2022 |
I really wanted to like this. It's a fascinating subject. But the author's writing style bored me to sleep.No one ever told her to avoid the passive voice when writing, apparently. Plus, I couldn't get a handle on who any of the women were, because she just didn't really write about them with any depth at all. She skimmed over things like women having no choice but to quit if they got pregnant, dismissed a male boss saying he wouldn't hire women "because they'll just get married and leave" as tactless comments... I just couldn't force myself to spend any more time on it. I hate giving up on a book, but... (and I'm really surprised, because I had heard how fantastic this one was! But my God, it bored me.) ( )
  maryellencg | Jan 8, 2022 |
A history of women at JPL (NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory), from its origins in the 1940s, through many decades of exploring the solar system, up to the present day (or very nearly: the book was published in 2016). For much of this time, most of the women there were employed as computers, calculating complex engineering equations and rocket trajectories by hand with pencil and paper. If you've seen the movie Hidden Figures, or read the book it's based on, this is the same type of job the women featured there were doing elsewhere at NASA. (And, yes, not all of the women at JPL where white, either.) Later on, as electronic computers began to replace human ones, they became computer programmers, as well. And by now, of course, there are many female engineers working there, although still not in the same numbers as the men.

I wasn't always exactly engaged by the writing in this particular volume. It wanders back and forth between being a straightforward history and trying to go for a "narrative nonfiction" approach of dramatizing things from various women's POV, and the two things are grafted rather awkwardly together. (This seems to be a common structure in non-fiction these days, and too few writers, in my opinion, pull it off especially gracefully.) The subject matter is certainly interesting, though. Holt covers a lot of the space missions fairly quickly and not in immense depth, but as a general overview of what JPL has done in its history, it works well enough. And the lives and careers of these women provide a really vivid illustration of what life was like for working women in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, when equally qualified men and women were seldom hired for the same positions and a woman could be summarily fired for getting pregnant. These are worthwhile stories to hear and remember, and even if I have slightly mixed feelings about the writing here, I am unambiguously glad to see these intelligent, dedicated women getting the recognition they deserve. ( )
  bragan | Nov 17, 2021 |
After reading the book Hidden Figures I became interested in reading more about women in the fields of science and technology. I found the book to be very fascinating and well written. It was a good read and more like narrative fiction than like straight non-fiction which made for an enjoyable and quick read. After finishing it I had a great desire to learn more about women in the science fields. ( )
  KateKat11 | Sep 24, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 32 (next | show all)
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Nathalia Holtprimary authorall editionscalculated
Bennett, ErinNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
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
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For Larkin and our little rocket girls, Eleanor and Philippa
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The young woman's heart was pounding.
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During World War Il, when the brand-new minted Jet Propulsion Laboratory needed quick-thinking mathematicians to calculate jet velocities and plot missile trajectories, they recruited an elite group of young women--known as "computers"--who, with only pencil, paper, and mathematical prowess, transformed rocket design and helped bring about America's first ballistic missiles. But they were never interested in developing weapons--their hearts lay in the dream of space exploration. So when JPL became part of a new agency called NASA, the computers worked on the first probes to the moon, Venus, Mars, and beyond. Later, as digital computers largely replaced human ones, JPL was unique in training and retaining its brilliant pool of women. They became the first computer programmers and engineers, and through their efforts, we launched the ships that showed us the contours of our solar system. For the first time, this book tells the stories of these women who charted a course not only for the future of space exploration but also for the prospects of female scientists. Based on extensive research and interviews with the living members of the team, Rise of the Rocket Girls offers a unique perspective on the role of women in science, illuminating both where we've been and the far reaches of where we're heading.--Adapted from dust jacket.

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