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

After watching the movie, Hidden Figures, I became more curious about the role women played in NASA and space exploration. As part of Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Reading Challenge, the challenge encouraged me to read a book about diversity. I chose a book about the women computers of NASA. This book is Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt. I found the book to be quite interesting. Not only did it focus on the role of women as they calculated our way into the heavens, but it provided a detailed behind the scenes account of our journey into space.

The Rise of the Rocket Girls is 323 pages long. It has 12 chapters spread across four parts: 1940s, 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s-Today. The book follows a group of women who were pioneers in the space program. The Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) hired these women as human calculators to assist the male engineers. They were the calculators responsible for complex calculations before there were machine computers. Over time, they were also recognized as engineers and given credit for their exceptional work.

Besides peeling back the cover of a world hidden from most of the world, I especially enjoyed the look at our space program through the eyes of these women. As a teen in the Civil Air Patrol program, CAP introduced me to aerospace education (AE). I found AE to be an enjoyable subject. As I was reading Rise of the Rocket Girls, I remembered those lessons. For example, in the 1940s section of the book, the women were working on calculations for different propellants. I knew exactly what they were talking about.

As the space program became more complex, the women kept pace and performed more and more complex calculations. They plotted trajectories to the moon, Venus, Neptune, and beyond. These women also became some of the first computer programmers. They performed 90% of the computer programming for JPL. As computers were taking more and more jobs, the women ensured job security by learning how to program in FORTRAN and other complex languages.

The book also highlighted the balancing act women had to play across the decades as they married, had children, and tried to work. It was difficult to maintain this balance. The leadership for this group of women only hired women to the team. This helped them develop a tight relationship that fostered their excellence. They seemed to have something to prove.

With our concern about the number of women pursuing STEM studies and careers, I found this book inspirational. We need to get out the of the way of people so they can excel. We should be empowering people like these women to help solve our world’s problems. I definitely recommend Rise of the Rocket Girls.


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