Book Review: Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt (Four Stars)


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

Four Stars

“Engineers make up the problems and we solve them.” Helen Ling

Despite the cringe-worthy title, an excellent history of the women who contributed to the unique successes of Caltech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Superb concept and research. Too bad the storytelling falls short. With so large a cast, Holt often fails to identify her frequent shifts of focus character. Even as an advocacy work, her biases bleed through too obviously.

“As odd as it seems by today’s standards, the beauty contest was a result of JPL’s progressive hiring practices … unintentionally highlight the presence of educated young women working for JPL.”

Even with its shortcomings this book sets the record straight about the vital contributions of the “computers” as they were called before the advent of massive and micro-computers of the last fifty years.

“She didn’t feel intimidated. Instead she felt invisible.”

“Many saw the shuttle as competition.” It certainly contested budget dollars, if not official and public attention. JPL continued to plan and execute successful scientific missions while most of NASA’s attention and money was wasted on grandstanding with people. (In my opinion, JPL’s Deep Space Network continues to do more science that the International Space Station.)

“There was no doubt in her mind or anyone else’s that if they’d gone ahead with their design and put a satellite at the helm and fuel in that final stage, their creation would be circling the earth at this very moment.” (September 2, 1956)

See also Hidden Figures, the story behind the contemporary black women climbing an even steeper hill at NASA Langley Research Center (Hampton, Virginia). Don’t understand why neither were nominated for 2017 Hugo Awards as related works.

“Proper paranoia.” Gentry Lee

JPL’s frequent failures highlight the risk when pushing the envelope of the possible. Those now planning to send people to Mars should reflect on the low success rate of unmanned missions to the red planet.

“We’re a sisterhood.”

1 thought on “Book Review: Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt (Four Stars)

  1. Might read this. My uncle went to CalTech and his whole career was at JPL. My cousin is married to a fellow who just retired from JPL. I have great photos of planets from my uncle. Thanks.

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