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Publisher's Summary

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.

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying reference material will be available in your Library section along with the audio.

©2016 Nathalia Holt (P)2016 Hachette Audio

Critic Reviews

"Engaging history...a fresh contribution to women's history." (Kirkus)
"The immediacy of Holt's writing makes readers feel as if they're alongside the women during their first view of Jupiter, and beyond." (Stephanie Sendaula, Library Journal)
"I stole sleep to finish this book and was happy to do so. I admire how Holt gives voice to a group of important (and lesser-known) female scientists who have in the past been overshadowed by their male counterparts. The domestic and the scientific are elegantly rendered - it is an impressive contribution to American history and I was sad to turn the last page." (TaraShea Nesbit, best-selling author of The Wives of Los Alamos)

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Struggles In Space Exploration

There is an interesting article available on-line from theatlantic.com titled How Sexism Held Back Space Exploration. There is a photo of Helen Ling, one of the women "computers" from this book and Caltech's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, in the article. It is a fascinating look at the same story told here but from a different angle. To me, the article captures the feeling of frustration I had as I listened to the book. I have to be honest, I was disturbed by the degree of sexism presented in the book and by how it was not handled directly. Instead, it was almost spun into a simple tale of smart plucky women breaking the mold.

Be aware, this is not a complete history of NASA or the space program. Instead, Holt kept her focus directly on the lives of the women, their struggles juggling marriage, home, family and work. It was clear how devoted and captivated the women were by the work the did at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the parts they played in furthering space exploration. I just felt frustrated and angry on their behalf.

This was an interesting, if at times thin look at the lives of a subset of women from 1936 through the current day. There are numerous sites on-line with old photos and background information that are worth a look. Do read the article mentioned above. It helps to expand the story and adds depth to the book.

39 of 45 people found this review helpful

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an insightful history of what women can accomplish

An insightful history of what women can accomplish, when they have a seat at the table. One of the most cognizant points I took away is that women's scientific achievements during this period in history was dependent on having support, a manager that looked to encourage a feminine presence, willingness to hire (or hire back) women that had young children at home, and extended flexibility to its employees. Truly an amazing accounting of the history of space exploration from its humble beginnings, through the lens of an often underrepresented largest minority.

2 of 2 people found this review helpful

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  • B.J.
  • Minneapolis, MN, United States
  • 04-22-16

Behind every successful rocket launch ...

there's a room full of brilliant women! Who knew?

This was the first time I'd ever heard about these smart women and what they did to make space exploration possible in the 50s and 60s. I've always wondered what really bright women did "back in the day" when so few opportunities were available to them. Now I know where some of the brilliant mathematicians landed. Their intellectual capacity, camaraderie and dedication to a purpose is awe inspiring. I can't believe we've never honored their contribution to our nation's history and the space program.

Because of another Audible listener and her terrific reviews, I became aware of this book. (Thanks, Gillian!) I agree with her assessment and rave review. This book is well researched and written. The narration doesn't really add anything, but doesn't get in the way. It held my interest from beginning to end and sent me scurrying to find out more.

16 of 23 people found this review helpful

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science

I loved it. Enjoyed the stories behind the women in rocket science and space exploration.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Diane
  • Little Rock, AR, United States
  • 11-23-16

The Real Heroines

Why isn't THIS in our history books? They did so much for humankind's space exploration. Thank you!

3 of 4 people found this review helpful

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  • Cynthia
  • Monrovia, California, United States
  • 05-07-16

Women on the Way Up

This book is fantastic. It has history, science, sociology, business, and inspiration all rolled into one compelling listen. I just wish I could buy every kid in Southern California a copy.

"Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon" (2016) ranges from Southern California legends and lore to the global story of human space exploration - and women's history. The book celebrates the quiet and until now unsung heroines who were 'leaning in' ("Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead" (2013) Sheryl Sandberg) long before Betty Friedan identified the general malaise of the middle class housewife in "The Feminine Mystique" (1963). As Nathalia Holt writes about one of the women she profiled, before the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, "She was snarled in the limits of being born a woman."

There's that old chestnut about the computing power that got us to the moon being about the same as a pocket calculator, but that's not true. The computing power was the best and the brightest women, cloistered at the top of the Arroyo Seco, working long hours - and going home to make dinner and take care of children, a second full time job.

I kept thinking of how far things have come in some ways. There aren't "Miss Guided Missile" contests at the office, and women aren't fired for getting pregnant - but maybe not in others. I worry that even now, women aren't getting paid the same up at NASA's JPL (when you live in the San Gabriel Valley, JPL is always "up") even if they are doing the same job as men.

The rocket science is explained so clearly that I finally understand the concepts, nearly 50 years after I watched the Apollo 11 moon landing while sitting cross legged on a green shag carpet in front of a huge black and white console television. I haven't been obsessing over it for almost half a century, but I really didn't understand how a solid rocket booster was until now.

By the end of the book, I felt that I'd gotten to know the brilliant women profiled in "Rise of the Rocket Girls" so well that I was sad. I felt like I do at the end of a long and happy visit with family or friends - I wished that it could last longer.

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25 of 38 people found this review helpful

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Interesting subject; poorly written

I'm a little disappointed this book wasn't better written. These women's stories are so interesting, but the author took this really cold approach to writing them and then the clumsily peppered in humanizing moments just felt really flat and awkward. I don't think I'd recommend this one.

9 of 14 people found this review helpful

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Who knew, now I do!

Inspirational, rewarding and full of Rocket goodness...fueled by fortitude and feminine. A must read for ALL.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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Women, science, and progress

In the first half of the 20th century, the word "computer" meant a person who did heavy-duty computation. During the Second World War and the years following, this included doing the computation for missile development. When the Jet Propulsion Laboratory was created, computers were in great demand there.

And at JPL, something special happened.

Many of the early computers hired there were women.They were working closely with the engineers, who were all men; women were simply not hired as engineers, no matter what their qualifications. The woman who became head of the computer department decided she would only hire women.

This was not an era of gender equality. Women expected, and were expected, to marry and become mothers. There was no maternity leave, so a married working woman who became pregnant had no alternative but to quit.

But the women working at JPL became a bonded group, as much a family as a group of coworkers. And over the years, they worked to professionalize themselves, and to professionalize their image in the minds of their male coworkers. As the first machine computers were developed and brought in, it was the women computers who learned to use and program them. Both before and after the arrival of the machines, it was the women writing the programs that made both missiles and rockets fly.

This book follows the lives, professional and personal, of the women who first were JPL's computers, and later became the programmers of computers, and finally were recognized as engineers in their own right. They were a major component of the growth of NASA, and the development of the space program. We get to see the tensions between their personal lives and their professional lives, as well as the role they played in pushing the robot-based exploration of the solar system--missions to Venus, Mars, and beyond. It's a complex and stirring tale, and an important piece of both social and scientific history. The early parts especially, for younger readers (and by that I mean readers in their thirties, not kids) is likely to read like an account of an alien, or at the very least foreign, society.

So much progress has happened in my lifetime. I'd hate to see us go backward.

Highly recommended.

I bought this book.

2 of 3 people found this review helpful

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  • Gillian
  • Austin, TX, United States
  • 04-18-16

Exciting Science, Inspirational Women!

This book really reminded me of my sister: this is about women who can find the design of the Universe in a flower, in the mathematics involved in each of these. These women are the dreamiest kind of artists, and are brilliant!
From the first woman hooking up with The Suicide Squad (who will become the founders of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory) through to the longest serving woman member of NASA, "Rise of the Rocket Girls" follows each computer... she who computes... on her journey through changing science, through the changes within our societal structure. I couldn't devour this audiobook fast enough, and I'm listening to it again.
While the science of it can be thorough and daunting, it's so well-written that even I, a different kind of dreamy artist, could follow well enough and could be inspired. It made looking up at the heavens a whole new kind of fun.
Erin Bennett's narration can be a bit officious at times, shows just the tiniest lack of emotion that makes it the tiniest short of a 5-star merit, but she does a great job and doesn't go overboard on the vocal variations in an attempt to make each woman unique. The women are who they are, and their words and lives speak for themselves.
Now if you'll excuse me, as I'm listening to this again, I have to go back to it. I'm at The Sixties, and that was a helluva time for space exploration!

14 of 23 people found this review helpful