Rise of the Rocket Girls

Rise of the Rocket Girls

The Women Who Propelled Us, From Missiles to the Moon to Mars

Book - 2016
Average Rating:
Rate this:

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.

Publisher: New York : Little, Brown and Company, 2016
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780316338929
Characteristics: xiii, 338 pages, 16 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations (some color) ; 25 cm


From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
IndyPL_MicheleP Dec 06, 2018

I enjoyed this book. I liked how it nor only told about the women at work, but also talked about their lives away from work.

Jun 10, 2018

The book does a better job than most in explaining the math (I finally know why data reduction might not be someone's favorite assignment) though it does get some of the old technology wrong (how data was encoded on punch cards, for example). I think the parts about marriages and clothes were important because most women at the time did not have the choice of being both ladies and nerds, as hard as balancing those roles could be.

ArapahoeAnna Aug 13, 2017

Interesting section on the race to launch a USA orbital satellite before Sputnik. Alas, science often comes down to funding, public policy and political backing.

Jul 29, 2017

I need the book on September 11th 2017

After reading Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly I wanted to find out more about the remarkable women who were used as human computers during the space race. These women were truly brilliant, calculating rocket trajectories by hand in a world where working women weren't the norm, and women with children were expected to stay home to raise their families. I loved how this book covered these women over time and showed how times began to change thanks to these brilliant ladies. I did listen to the audio book, and did find it difficult at times to keep track of some ladies, while others were easier to follow. Still, I loved this contribution to our history.

ArapahoeLesley Nov 10, 2016

A light and easy read this history of the female 'computers' and engineers at JPL from the 1940s until today is a great story and an eye-opening one as concerns the role of female scientists and the history of space exploration as a whole.

Oct 25, 2016

I totally agree with the other commenter who mentioned the silliness about looks. The writing is very basic, 8th grade level, and while the science is explained as clearly as I've ever seen it explained, all the Young Miss writing about babies and beauty pageants turned my stomach.

Women have had it hard. Part of why, over my lifetime, is being seen as nothing but objects of others' gazes. We are supposed to look like something, not actually be something, know something, or do something. The author here is part of that problem, not part of its solution.

DBRL_IdaF Oct 08, 2016

An account of the women (human computers) who did so much to make the Jet Propulsion Lab what it is. Holt interviewed many of the women and members of their families, and does a good job intertwining the stories of their professional and personal lives.

It was almost happenstance that women played a key role from the beginning of rocket development and space exploration, just before World War II. JPL began as a college club with a small handful of members, but they were close friends with a young married couple, Richard and Barbara Canright. When the club got a research grant and developed into a business, the Canrights were their first two employees. Barbara, a math whiz, worked as a "computer", doing all of the mathematical computations by hand.

It was not happenstance that women came to dominate the computing department at JPL as the company grew. The work was one of the best paying jobs available for bright, math-oriented young women. The pioneers in the department made sure to seek out other women, mentoring them and finding ways to make their job work for them, even with the birth of babies (something that usually ended a woman's career back in the day.)

JPL was groundbreaking as well in integrating the workforce. Janez Lawson was the first African American woman hired in the department and one of the first to learn to program non-human computers. Helen Ling, a Chinese American, rose to head the department for many years and made great efforts to scout and mentor promising women, sending them for training as engineers. A quote from the book: "While protesters were demanding equal rights for women across the country, the women at JPL had created their own equality." By the 1990s, a woman, Sylvia Miller, was in charge of the Mars program.

Things I didn't know until I read this book: In the 1940's an interest in rocketry was considered quack science in a lot of circles. The first Mars images made it back to earth only days after Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. The Voyager was secretly programmed and built to do a much larger mission than had been approved by Congress, just in case..and the planning paid off, as its early success led them to approve the plans that had already been made behind their backs anyway.

A fascinating and inspiring read

Sep 08, 2016

Too many interruptions about their clothes and shoes and makeup. I didn't care about their femininity; I wanted to know about the science and math.

Jun 15, 2016

Very interesting book on little known subject. Chuckled at sexist Miss Ballistic missile or Miss outer space before it was gone by woman liberation. Ditto the assorted computers with politically incorrect nicknames that supposed to help them. Amazed at the tight-knit group with lasting friendship.


Add Age Suitability

There are no ages for this title yet.


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.


Add Notices

There are no notices for this title yet.


Add a Quote

There are no quotes for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at SPPL

To Top