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

Nathalia Holt. Little, Brown, $27 (368p) ISBN 978-1-4789-8539-6
Holt (Cured), a microbiologist and science writer, honors the lives and work of the women who provided the fledgling Jet Propulsion Lab with computing power, in this accessible and human-centered history. The JPL began in the late 1930s as a tight-knit group of enthusiastic male rocket designers (known as the Suicide Squad) who met at the Caltech campus. They were backed up by an all-female group of human “computers” who were responsible for solving—by hand—the math that powered the men’s designs. The women had all excelled in math, physics, chemistry, and engineering—often they were the only women in their classes—but no company would hire one as an engineer or scientist. The JPL allowed them to put their skills to work in a field that would grow from “fringe science” to cutting-edge space exploration. 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. The 1960s brought birth control pills, pantsuits, and changing attitudes about women’s roles, just as JPL was expanding human knowledge of the solar system. Holt’s accessible and heartfelt narrative celebrates the women whose crucial roles in American space science often go unrecognized. Illus. Agent: Laurie Abkemeier, DeFiore and Company. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/22/2016
Genre: Nonfiction
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