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Rise of the Rocket Girls
The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars
Read by Erin Bennett
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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.
“If Hidden Figures has you itching to learn more about the women who worked in the space program, pick up Nathalia Holt’s lively, immensely readable history, Rise of the Rocket Girls.” — Entertainment Weekly
Table of Contents
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"Lily?" I suggested, pointing to a name I'd scribbled on a damp cocktail napkin. My husband shook his head no. I pressed the pen to my lips and concentrated, trying to balance my pregnant belly while perched on the wobbly edge of a bar stool. It was the summer of 2010, and my husband and I were trying to come up with names for our daughter's December arrival. Sitting in a bar in Cambridge, Massachusetts, we brainstormed names, each writing them down privately on a napkin before showing the other, as if we were on some bizarre game show: Name Your Baby! We weren't having much luck. We both have unusual first names—Nathalia and Larkin—so we wanted to find one that wouldn't subject our daughter to a lifetime of odd nicknames. When Larkin wrote down Eleanor, I immediately rejected it. It sounded so old-fashioned. I couldn't imagine naming my daughter that. But as the months went by and my belly grew, the name grew on me too. We started coming up with middle names. I suggested Frances, a fitting tribute to Larkin's mother, who had passed away seven years earlier.
Like any modern mother-to-be, I researched the names we were dreaming up on the Internet. When I plugged in Eleanor Frances, I was surprised to find, buried in history, an Eleanor Francis Helin, born November 12, 1932. She was a scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in charge of the program that tracked asteroids nearing Earth. Like the scientists we so often see personified in movies such as Armageddon, she hunted the asteroids that get a little too close to home. During her time at NASA, she discovered an impressive number of asteroids and comets—more than eight hundred. This was the kind of woman I wanted my daughter to share her name with. My search came up with an old black-and-white photo of her, blond bouffant hair curling at her shoulders, a timid smile as she held up an astronomy award for her asteroid discoveries. Exactly how long had this woman worked at NASA? I wondered. Did women even work at NASA as scientists during the 1950s? Unfortunately it looked like I might never find out. Helin had passed away a year before, in 2009. When my daughter was born, in the last hours of December 14, 2010, we named her Eleanor Frances, in part for a woman I had never met but whose story I couldn't stop thinking about.
My continued obsession with Eleanor Francis Helin ("Glo" to her friends) led me to uncover the stories of a group of women intriguingly known as "the human computers" at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, California. These women, recruited in the 1940s and 1950s, were responsible for all the critical calculations at JPL that powered early missiles, rocketed heavy bombers over the Pacific, launched America's first satellite, guided lunar missions and planetary explorations, and even navigate Mars rovers today. My search unearthed a 1950s picture of the group, the women working at their desks. The image was crisp, yet the archivists at NASA knew only a few of the women's names and weren't sure what had become of them. It seemed their stories had been lost in the shuffle of history.
While we tend to think of the role women played during the early years at NASA as secretarial, these women were the antithesis of that assumption. These young female engineers shaped much of our history and the technology we have today. They became the earliest computer programmers at NASA. One of them still works there, the longest-serving woman of the American space program. Their stories give us an inside look at pivotal moments in American history, from a perspective never before told.
Since the cold night my Eleanor Frances was born, I've thought of these women often—particularly when the mood is intense. In my years as a microbiologist, I've tinkered with broken breast pumps in remote research stations in South Africa, watched my toddler run down darkened laboratory halls, and held in my hands raw data that shimmered with beauty. At each moment, I'm brought back to the women who dealt with similar struggles and triumphs a half century ago. How did they handle the sometimes awkward, sometimes wonderful challenges of being a woman, a mother, and a scientist all at once? There was only one way to find out: I'd have to ask them.
The young woman's heart was pounding. Her palms were sweaty as she gripped the pencil. She quickly scribbled down the numbers coming across the Teletype. She had been awake for more than sixteen hours but felt no fatigue. Instead, the experience seemed to be heightening her senses. Behind her she could sense Richard Feynman, the famous physicist, peeking at her graph paper. He stood looking over her shoulder, occasionally sighing. She knew that her every move was being carefully watched, her calculations closely studied. Her work would inform mission control if the first American satellite would be a success or a crushing failure.
Hours earlier, before the satellite had been launched, her boyfriend had wished her luck. He hadn't quite gotten used to the fact that his girlfriend worked late nights as an integral part of the American space program. Before leaving, he gave her a quick kiss. "I love you even if the dang thing falls in the ocean," he said with a smile.
Now, hours later, the worry that the satellite had crashed into the sea was real. They should have detected its signal by now. With each passing second they were inching closer to catastrophic failure. The numbers raced in from tracking stations across the globe. With each new measurement, she calculated the path of the satellite. If it didn't hit the right velocity, if it didn't make its trajectory, America would be left with egg on its face, even further behind the Soviets. Her pride was similarly tied to the fate of the satellite. She'd been here at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory from its earliest days, helping to design the rockets powering the tube-shaped spacecraft that was no heavier than a toddler. Now the project's ultimate fate was hers to reveal.
As she plotted a curved line across the orange graph paper, she realized the trajectory was coming close to the point of no return. If the satellite passed this point, it would leave the atmosphere, begin circling the globe, and become the first American space-success story. The future of space exploration rested on this moment. But the young woman tried not to think of this. Instead, she focused on the paper in front of her, with its long lines of numbers. When she calculated that the satellite had left Earth's atmosphere, the critical juncture, she kept quiet. She made no comment but couldn't help letting a smile come to her lips.
"Why are you smiling?" Feynman said, his voice irritated as the moments crept by. Until the signal came through in California, after the satellite had completed a spin around Earth, they couldn't be sure the satellite would stay up. Everyone was on edge as they waited for the confirmation of a few faint beeps, proof that they'd made it.
The pounding of the Teletype filled her ears. The numbers came in. Suddenly the satellite's signal came through loud and clear, breaking its long silence. She confirmed her calculations before marking down the updated position on the graph paper.
"She made it!" she said triumphantly, twisting around in her seat to see the reaction. Behind her, a room of her colleagues, almost all men, broke into cheers. Ahead of her, the future stretched out, as limitless as space itself.
Barbara Lewis (later Paulson)
Up, Up, and Away
The first noise she heard was a low-pitched growl. Next came the explosion. Then the grating sound of metal grinding on metal came as loud as a thunderstorm. Barbara Canright whirled around to see a car-size piece of twisted steel teetering dangerously on the roof of the building above her. With her eyes fixed on the looming accident, the seconds slowed down as she stood frozen in place. Filled with a sudden terror, she hurried away, her heels clicking on the red-brick paths of the California Institute of Technology campus. A blur of faces surrounded her, all gawking at the scene, unsure of exactly what they were witnessing. But Barbara, known by everyone as Barby, knew what the thing falling from the sky was.
From a safe distance she watched as the warped hunks of metal rained down on the sidewalk. One after another, a platform, a rocket motor, and a pendulum fell to their doom. The homemade scientific equipment landed in a heap resembling little more than trash to the onlookers. Yet Barby could value its worth. She gasped when a piece of the building followed the debris to the ground, the bricks breaking apart into powdered clay. When the dust settled, the campus seemed impossibly quiet. As Barby moved away from the scene, the students around her were whispering; it was as if after so much noise, they hesitated to add a decibel.
Barby often had lunch with her husband in the afternoons. She'd escape the shackles of her typewriter and walk across the campus, drinking in the fresh air and the Southern California sunshine. Yet this March day in 1939 was unusually overcast. It was a foreboding beginning to the experiments that a team of men, known as the Suicide Squad, would run that day.
The group drew attention the way a circus attracts a crowd, with outlandish stunts and an eccentric appeal. It all started with three young men: Frank Malina, Jack Parsons, and Ed Forman. Hardly anyone thought of them as scientists. Perhaps this was because only Frank was a student at the university. It was difficult for those first meeting him to guess his age. He had the exuberance of a boy but the thinning hair of middle age. Despite his retreating hairline, he was twenty-six years old, the same age as Ed, and he shared a birthday with Jack, who was just two years younger. Together they tackled rocketry with all the bravado of youth.
Ed and Jack had been best friends since attending Washington Junior High School in Pasadena. Jack was the chemist in the trio. He grew up on the posh "Millionaire's Mile" in Pasadena with the expectation that, despite his poor performance in school, he would attend college. The Great Depression changed his destiny, leaving his family and his career prospects desolate. Ed, on the other hand, was from humble origins. His background in a working-class Pasadena family gave him experience in cobbling parts together. The machinist of the group, he made the modest equipment they had go a long way. The two bonded over a love of science fiction and rockets. It was this passion that led them to Frank.
For Barby and her husband, Richard, the group held no mystique; they were simply their friends. They met on the Caltech campus, where the Suicide Squad, despite the nonstudent status of two of their members, spent all their free time tinkering with rockets. As they sat around a wicker-and-glass table on the Canrights' patio, their imaginations fired late into the night with only the moon keeping track of their hours as it rose in the sky. The California moon seemed impossibly big. Barby had never seen one like it back home in Ohio, where in the warmth of the summer nights, everyone hid behind screened porches to shelter from the mosquitoes that descended at twilight.
In the sleepy town of Pasadena, Barby, Richard, and the members of the Suicide Squad had a clear view of the stars from their backyards. Since the Great Depression, the number of businesses was shrinking, down 52 percent in the decade since 1929. One benefit of the sluggish economy was that there was less light pollution in the night sky, leaving a velvety-black canvas for their starry-eyed schemes. As the friends discussed airplanes, Barby found the conversation infectious. She was full of the naïveté of nineteen, and spaceflight seemed an attainable goal to her. They discussed everything, from fuel to fins.
The Suicide Squad men were dreamers, but they were also troublemakers. The previous year, they'd tried to move a cylinder of nitrogen dioxide from outside the chemistry building. The valve suddenly jammed, causing a fountain of toxic, liquefied gas. For weeks, the resulting brown patch of grass on the lawn irritated the university's gardeners but made Barby smile as she passed it on the way to work. Unfortunately the next experiment wasn't as funny.
The group were attempting to test an unusual mixture—nitrogen dioxide and wood alcohol—to see how the combination might power a rocket motor. Barby was appalled. Thanks to her proficiency in high school chemistry, she knew how dangerous nitrogen dioxide was. Inhaling the gas can kill you. To mix it with a cheap alcohol and then set it on fire was a death wish. Barby shook her head; the men were certainly earning their reputation.
They took the dangerous mixture and poured it into a small rocket motor. They then attached a fifty-foot rope with the rocket motor swinging off the end and hung the pendulum in a stairwell from the top floor of the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory, all the way to the basement, like a giant rope swing. How hard the pendulum swung translated into how high a rocket might one day fly. But it didn't go so well. The first time they tried their experiment, the engine misfired and a cloud of toxic gas saturated the building. It caused every metal exterior it touched to rust and tarnished every polished surface. The building housed an expensive new wind tunnel, the largest in the world, and its once-shiny metal was soon covered in spots of orange and brown. It looked like the wind tunnel had a case of measles. The accident earned the men the moniker the Suicide Squad, a nickname that didn't bode well.
The group worried that their future at Caltech was as ruined as the rusted wind tunnel. Although Ed and Jack were not students, their future in rocketry was inextricably linked to the university. So it was a pleasant surprise when they learned that they could continue their experiments; they just had to move them outside. Using a metal platform attached to the side of the building, they hauled up their rocket-motor pendulum and carefully hung it over the side of the platform. When Barby looked up at the explosion that March afternoon, she was watching the platform carrying all the equipment smash into bits. It could have been worse—Frank could have been killed. At the last minute, he had been called away from the experiment to deliver a typewriter to his adviser's home, while Ed and Jack carried on alone. Returning to campus, he found a piece of the pressure gauge buried in the wooden beam right where his head would have been.
This accident, in full view of the student body, brought renown to the Suicide Squad, though it wasn't a desirable notoriety. Barby and Richard teased the group mercilessly. As easy as it was to joke about the accident, Richard was seriously grateful Barby had been nowhere near the platform when it fell.
Richard and Barby loved each other in the passionate fashion of newlyweds, the years not yet smoothing the sharp edges of their union. They fought and made up, the tears and laughter running together. They had eloped, celebrating their tender young marriage by moving from Ohio to Southern California. Richard was twenty-one. Barby was two years younger and turning heads at the all-male Caltech campus. With her dark hair curling at her shoulders, dark brown eyes, and petite, feminine frame, she was the very picture of a wholesome midwestern girl. She had just the kind of job one would expect. She worked as a typist, spending her days clicking away at the keys, while fitting in classes at Occidental College, in Los Angeles. She was incredibly bright; in high school she took advanced math and chemistry classes, often the only girl in the rigorous courses. As she toiled in school she had no sense that the coursework would ever influence her future. She took the classes simply because she enjoyed them and spoke of mathematics lovingly. Despite her teenage fascination, she was snarled in the limits of being born a woman. None of the options before her—schoolteacher, nurse, secretary—felt quite right. Yet whichever career she chose could hold only a transient charm. Now that she was married, her days of working would last only as long as she and Richard remained childless. Motherhood, the career she was formed for, loomed large.
Richard, like Barby, was also discontented with work. To make ends meet, he drove a truck for a delivery company while attending graduate school at Caltech. Unlike Barby, he could see opportunity on the horizon. He wanted to be an engineer and knew that if he worked hard enough, he could get there. What Barby and Richard didn't realize was that while they joked around with the Suicide Squad, their fates would end up tied to the wild group. In less than a year, Frank would approach them with a tantalizing job offer.
In 1939, the National Academy of Sciences awarded a grant to the Suicide Squad, now more formally known as the GALCIT (Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology) Rocket Research Project. It came just in time. Without a way to fund their rockets, the group had been on the verge of disbanding. Jack and Ed had taken part-time jobs with the Halifax Powder Company while Frank began research for the Soil Conservation Society. That first award, $1,000, rescued the group, bringing them back together. When they were awarded a second grant the next year for ten times as much, it was life-changing. It was the U.S. government's first investment in rocket research. In deference to the Army Air Corps, which had proposed the funding, they changed their name to the Air Corps Jet Propulsion Research Project. Their goal was clear: develop a rocket plane. The risky project was the beginning of what would become the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The influx of money meant that the group could finally hire some help. Knowing they would need skilled mathematicians, Frank approached the Canrights. Barby knew the job would be far from a sure thing. She wondered if she could depend on the longevity of the reckless group. She and Richard would be leaving good jobs to work for men who were not known for their reliability. Yet the offer was tempting.
If she accepted, Barby would once again be the only woman in a group of men. It was a job she hadn't expected, yet one she was eminently qualified for. Math was a comfortable second skin. She would always feel more at home with a pencil in her hand than at a typewriter. In addition, the position held prestige, allowed her to work alongside her husband, and paid twice what she made as a typist. More than the money, it offered her the opportunity to use her neglected math skills.
It wasn't just the rocket research group that Barby was becoming a member of. She was joining an exclusive group whose contributions spanned centuries. Before Apple, before IBM, and before our modern definition of a central processing unit partnered with memory, the word computer referred simply to a person who computes. Using only paper, a pencil, and their minds, these computers tackled complex mathematical equations.
Early astronomers needed computers in the 1700s to predict the return of Halley's Comet. During World War I, groups of men and women worked as "ballistic computers," calculating the range of rifles, machine guns, and mortars on the battlefield. During the Depression era, 450 people worked for the U.S. government as computers, 76 of them women. These computers, meagerly paid as part of the Works Progress Administration, created something special. They filled twenty-eight volumes with rows and rows of numbers, eventually published by the Columbia University Press as the plainly named Mathematical Tables Project series. What they couldn't know was that these books, filled to the brim with logarithms, exponential functions, and trigonometry, would one day be critical to our first steps into space.
The dream of space exploration was what initially tugged at the Suicide Squad. They worked on engines during the day, but at night they talked about the limits of the universe. Even before they received federal funding, their group attracted new members. In 1936, Caltech graduate students A.M.O. Smith and Hsue-Shen Tsien joined the Suicide Squad. The lure of being part of the audacious gang was so great that Weld Arnold, an assistant in the astrophysics department at Caltech, bribed his way in by offering Frank their first (unofficial) funding, $1,000, in exchange for his role as photographer. The first installment, $100, was paid in a wrinkled wad of one- and five-dollar bills, delivered by Weld on a bicycle. No one questioned where he got the money; they were only too happy to have some.
The group made fun of the alien spaceships they saw in the movies, laughing at their implausible designs, while simultaneously relishing a screenplay Frank had outlined in which rocket scientists were, of course, the heroes. Wrapped up in their fantasies, the team talked endlessly about their version of a spaceship: a rocket plane.
But before they could build a plane they had to find a new place to work. The Suicide Squad's amplified destruction had gotten them kicked off the Caltech campus. They drove up into the deserted hills, choosing for their own a dusty canyon called the Arroyo Seco. Although only a few miles outside Pasadena, it felt like a world apart. They were far from prying eyes, the walls of the canyon screening their experiments from the outside world. The canyon itself was seen as some kind of monster by the town below. Although Southern California seemed to offer a constant supply of sunshine, occasionally the clouds gathered and the rain came down hard. When it poured, the watershed of the Arroyo Seco filled, funneling down to the homes and businesses below and causing flash floods. The residents of Pasadena cursed the canyon and decided to find a way to control the rages of nature. In 1935 the WPA began building a maze of concrete channels, transferring the power of the untamed tributaries to human hands. The once-wild Los Angeles River, now lined in concrete, was cut down to a trickle, dripping down the valley.
The streams and riverbeds became nothing more than dusty indentations in the land (in Spanish arroyo seco means "dry streambed"). While the Arroyo Seco felt remote, far from any residential area, it was still a relatively quick drive from Caltech, where the Suicide Squad kept their equipment. The downside was that its dry, rocky landscape dotted with scrubby brush made it particularly susceptible to wildfires. Of course, concern over sparking fire would hardly deter the Suicide Squad from lighting up the night sky.
They began to carve out a home in the isolated canyon and adapted their experiments to match. The group was lean, with Theodore von Kármán, Frank's graduate-school adviser, acting as director, and Frank as chief engineer. The Canrights joined the group along with a few new engineers and found that the dry stream made a perfect bed for firing rockets. They dug test pits and built a few small buildings to house equipment. Despite the developments, the area was still the wilderness to Barby. The dust covered her shoes and got in her hair. The grit found its way into everything—her car, her purse, even her lipstick. Grime notwithstanding, the team was content. The remote canyon concealed their loud, often-dangerous experiments, yet their isolation heightened their eccentric reputation. Hidden in the hills, tinkering with explosives, they were often perceived as mad scientists.
Rockets were considered fringe science, and the people who worked on them weren't taken seriously. When Frank asked one of his professors at Caltech, Fritz Zwicky, for his help on a problem, the teacher told him, "You're a bloody fool. You're trying to do something impossible. Rockets can't work in space." In fact, the word rocket was in such bad repute that the group purposely omitted it when they formed their institute, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Some scientists at the sister Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology snickered at them, while Vannevar Bush, an engineering professor at MIT, derisively said, "I don't understand how a serious scientist or engineer can play around with rockets."
The idea of strapping rockets to a plane was pure science fiction, as likely as the UFOs the Suicide Squad ridiculed. Planes were dependent on piston engines spinning propellers. Yet this design had a built-in speed limitation because propellers lose efficiency as they approach the speed of sound, 760 miles per hour. At high speed, shock waves occur around the propeller, creating drag and slowing the plane. A few scientists had an audacious scheme to skirt the limitation: they would get rid of the piston engine and propeller altogether, developing a jet engine capable of creating enough thrust to keep the plane aloft. Critics scoffed at such an idea. It was clearly impossible, since any engine powerful enough to perform such a feat would itself be too heavy to fly through the air.
Jet engines propel planes much like an inflated balloon whose opening is held tightly closed and then suddenly opened. As the air rushes out the narrow opening, it makes the balloon fly. This is because the crammed air molecules rush from the high pressure inside the taut balloon to the low pressure outside. With the size of the exit restricted, the molecules racing out create enough thrust to propel an object forward.
Before World War II, the idea existed only in laboratories, notably those of Hans von Ohain in Germany and Frank Whittle in England. With jet engines for airplanes still in the experimental stages, the idea of a rocket-powered plane seemed overwhelmingly naïve to experienced aeronautical engineers. A rocket engine would be even more complex than a jet engine because, although it worked on the same principle, the rocket engine didn't use oxygen from the air to combust its fuel. Instead, it carried its own oxidizer, making the mechanism intricate and heavy.
Despite the outlandishness of their ideas, Frank and his team pursued their rocket plane in earnest. Frank detailed his hopes for the plane when writing home to his mother, describing with precision the technological hurdles they'd have to overcome. His mother, a piano teacher who instilled in him a love of music, could hardly keep up with the science but marveled at the audacity of his work.
A New York Times bestseller
A Los Angeles Times bestseller
An Amazon Best Book of 2016
An Entertainment Weekly "10 Books You Have to Read in April"
An Elle "8 Books by Women for Bill Gates to Read This Summer"
Goodreads Choice Awards finalist
"Illuminating...these women are vividly depicted at work, at play, in and out of love, raising children--and making history. What a team--and what a story!"
—Gene Seymour, USA Today (3.5 stars/4)
- "The women's stories are fun, intense, and endearing, and they give a new perspective on the rise of the space age."—Popular Science
"A marvelous book.... When Neil Armstrong made his 'giant leap for mankind,' there was womankind in the control room."
—Maria Popova, Brain Pickings
"Immersive, evocative.... Superbly readable.... Holt's poignant narrative should be required reading."
—Maya Gittelman, Bookreporter
"Holt investigates the fascinating lives and important contributions of these women, who defied the sexist stereotypes of their times to play pivotal roles in sending the first rockets beyond Earth."
- "An intriguing account of the young, female 'human computers' who worked at Caltech's JPL. Be inspired by their work on America's first satellite and other groundbreaking projects, against the social backdrop of the Space Age, slowly changing gender norms, and the dawn of computers."—Estelle Tang, Elle, "5 Books That You Can Read With Your Mom"
"Holt argues that these women's calculations played an under-appreciated part in NASA's towering achievements.... Here, math is dramatic, not mundane. Calculating is a physical, even athletic, act.... Holt depicts the human computers' life stories vividly."
—Jennifer Light, Nature
"Women were obviously just as vital to innovation and progress. Rise of the Rocket Girls proves that by reexamining the space age-specifically, the group of women who redesigned rocket science in the '40s and '50s and made that 'one small step for man' possible in the first place."
—Isabella Biedenharn, Christian Holub, Dana Getz, Entertainment Weekly
"NASA's 'Rocket Girls' are no longer forgotten history. Thanks to a new book, these female pioneers who helped the U.S. win the space race are finally getting their due... Holt documents the lives of these women, who were not only pioneers in their profession, but also in their personal lives."
—Naomi Shavin, Smithsonian
- "A must read for any women in tech or interested in technology!"—Girls Who Code
"The JPL's earliest days were fueled by math whizzes who happened to be women.... Holt was clearly smitten while interviewing surviving members of the elite group, and conveys that affection while honoring their story."
"Engaging.... A fresh contribution to women's history.... 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."
"Holt does a fine job balancing the personal stories of these women with the technical discussions of their work ....Rise of the Rocket Girls tells a fascinating story of the women who made largely unseen yet essential contributions to the early history of spaceflight."
—Jeff Foust, The Space Review
"Heartfelt.... An accessible and human-centered history.... Holt cheerfully describes the women of JPL (and JPL itself), their triumphs, and the inevitable questions about when they would marry and quit working to raise families."
—Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
"Holt's book shines portraying the mathematical and engineering process behind JPL's many iconic spaceflight missions...as well as the women's personal lives and the evolution of their unusual roles inside the male-dominated workplace."
- "Inspiring and thought-provoking, this book will change the way you look at the history of space travel--as well as its future."—Katherine Handcock, A Mighty Girl, "25 New Mighty Girl Books for Early Spring"
"Incredible....Holt unveils this forgotten history with nuance and insight."
—Laurel Raymond, Think Progress
"Rise of the Rocket Girls reveals the fascinating untold story of the heroic women who made America's space program possible. We owe much to these brilliant female pioneers in science-and to Nathalia Holt for reminding us of their extraordinary contributions."
—Cate Lineberry, author of The Secret Rescue: An Untold Story of American Nurses and Medics Behind Nazi Lines
"I stole sleep to finish this book and was happy to do so. I admire how Holt gives voice to a group of important (and lesser-known) female scientists who have in the past
been overshadowed by their male counterparts. The domestic and the scientific are elegantly rendered--it is an impressive contribution to American history and I was sad to turn the last page."
—TaraShea Nesbit, bestselling author of The Wives of Los Alamos
"These women helped change the course of American history. Nathalia Holt tells their remarkable story with heart and verve."
—Martha Ackmann, author of The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight
- "An inspiring, beautiful book. Nathalia Holt has a gift for capturing the joys and fears of scientists working at the edge of possibility. By profiling the women who learned to keep American rockets flying true, she paints the dawn of the space age with new and vivid colors."—Jason Fagone, author of Ingenious: A True Story of Invention, Automotive Daring, and the Race to Revive America
- "Nathalia Holt has written a gorgeously exciting book about an overlooked group of American women who deserve to have their story known. Inspiring and elegantly-told, this fresh slice of history was impossible to put down."—Claire Bidwell Smith, author of The Rules of Inheritance
"This highly readable, entertaining and informative book tells the story of JPL's 'computers,' the young women who did the calculations now handled by bits of silicon. Holt brings her characters to life, tracing them from their hiring as JPL began its career with the Army developing missiles for the Cold War through its conversion to NASA's lead center for planetary exploration. She celebrates their lives, achievements, and service to the nation, as well as their excitement at having front row seats to the earliest voyages of solar system exploration. It's a story whose telling is long overdue. We can be grateful for this enjoyable read."
—Dr. Charles Elachi, Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Vice President of the California Institute of Technology, and Professor of Electrical Engineering and Planetary Science
- "Holt gives voice to the seldom-recognized female mathematicians and scientists who shaped NASA in its earliest years and beyond."—ALA Magazine
"Non-fiction tends to be a good reading slump buster for me, and this one seems perfect."
—Andi Miller, Book Riot
- "Holt seamlessly blends the technical aspects of rocket science and mathematics with an engaging narrative, making for an imminently readable and well-researched work."—Crystal Goldman, Library Journal (Starred Review, Editors' Choice Pick)
- "Holt deserves credit for bringing this story to light....she is able to offer a backstage view of the bumpy start of the Space Age."—Julia M. Klein, Boston Globe
"We hope the renewed history of the rocket girls continues to inspire more girls and women to pursue STEM fields so the gender gap is sealed once and for all."
"Holt's book shines portraying the mathematical and engineering process behind JPL's many iconic spaceflight missions--including America's first satellite, Explorer 1, and the Voyager probes that explored the solar system--as well as the women's personal lives and the evolution of their unusual roles inside the male-dominated workplace."
"Rocket science has long been associated with men...but in Rise of the Rocket Girls, Nathalia Holt shines a light on the women behind the scenes."
—Eliza Thompson, Cosmopolitan, "6 New Books to Read This Month"
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- Apr 5, 2016
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