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

Date Published: April 5, 2016

Format: Ebook

Source: Own Copy

Date Read: June 5-9, 2019

Read for BL-opoly 2019, Science Reading List, and COYER Summer 2019



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.




This book can be seen as West Coast version of Hidden Figures - women who had exceptional abilities in math and science going to work (starting in the 1930s) at the Jet Propulsion Lab (which was mentioned in Hidden Figures). During the 1940s, a lot of their funding came from the military, a fact not lost on the women nor made it easy to work on projects that may end up being used for war. In the 1950s and 1960s, the shift went from military to the newly created NASA and their own company's space exploration - which made the woman much happier and excited for their company's future projects. There was the first African-American woman along with the first Chinese-American profiled in the book, although Jim Crow was not a factor in the workplace and both women worked their way up the ladder to be supervisors and then heads of the department. The work-life balance (or like thereof) was more of a tie that bound the women together, who became a sisterhood of sorts, even the "new girls". Births, deaths, marriages, divorces ran alongside the missions to Venus, Mercury, and Earth's moon. Some of the women went into engineering, some took sabbitcals from the work but usually returned a few years later. All the while, their stories were integrated into post-WWII American history through Holt's writing, showing how the second wave feminism and technological advancement met the workplace (pantsuits! panty hose! computers) while also dealing with age-old problems like division of work on the home front. 


A great companion book to Hidden Figures and great reading for the upcoming 50th anniversary of the moon landing coming up this month. Check out the pictures that come with the book, as Holt began writing the book after meeting the women at a company reunion. The women were by then in their late 80s and early 90s, so having their stories (and others who have already passed away) written down is a gift. Highly recommend.