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  Rocket Girl: America's First Female Rocket Scientist (George Morgan)

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Author Topic:   Rocket Girl: America's First Female Rocket Scientist (George Morgan)
garymilgrom
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Posts: 1602
From: Atlanta, GA, USA
Registered: Feb 2007

posted 08-28-2013 01:16 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for garymilgrom   Click Here to Email garymilgrom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Rocket Girl: The Story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America's First Female Rocket Scientist
by George Morgan
  • Paperback: 250 pages
  • Publisher: Prometheus Books (July 9, 2013)
  • ISBN-10: 1616147393
  • ISBN-13: 978-1616147396
From Booklist on Amazon.com:
Rocket Girl is an intriguing biography of a woman who kept many secrets, the least of which was her part in crafting the rocket-fuel recipe for the satellite Explorer 1. She had a bitter and brutal childhood, put a child up for adoption, and was unpaid for many years for the dangerous work she did in a male-dominated field. Most of all, as her son, author Morgan, recalls, there was something not quite right about her. Call it depression or OCD or just years of suppressed emotion, but Mary Sherman Morgan was not a happy woman. Determined to explore her complicated past, Morgan first wrote a play and then, delving into more detail, this portrait. The narrative is a bit unwieldy in its jumping back and forth in time and in Morgan’s attempts to enter the minds of Wernher von Braun and Sergei Korolev, and many questions remain unanswered. Still, the personal story and family detective work are truly gripping, and Mary, in all her contradictions, emerges as a fascinating subject.
The review above hits the mark - this is an odd but entertaining book. Mary is made out to be "the only thing keeping America from putting a satellite into orbit" for her work on hydyne, which supposedly gave the Redstone first stage on the Jupiter C enough impulse to lift its payload. But we've been told so often that thousands of people worked on these projects that it's hard for me not to think the author (her son) is showing some prejudice. Similarly, telling us what von Braun and Korolev were thinking at various times takes a lot of imagination or what some would call arrogance.

There is one fact I'd like to check - the author states Wernher von Braun was taken aback by the question "what is the satellite's name" after the successful launch of Explorer 1 and that the Explorer satellite was only named some time after its launch. Does anyone know if this is true?

The way the author pops into the story at various times makes this book hard to read, especially the final section describing Mary's casket and funeral. The author seems so intent on singing Mary's praises that an opportunity to write about Mary's actual work has been missed. In one photo Mary is shown beside an interesting looking calculator. A quick search brought up the Friden mechanical calculator and this is what Mary worked with. I would have liked to learn more about these machines and how they were used by Mary, instead of the endless stories crediting Mary with saving the entire US space program.

Rocket_Girl

A Friden calculator like Mary used:

friden

cspg
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Posts: 4140
From: Geneva, Switzerland
Registered: May 2006

posted 08-29-2013 05:02 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by garymilgrom:
I would have liked to learn more about these machines and how they were used by Mary, instead of the endless stories crediting Mary with saving the entire US space program.

That's pretty much the reason why I didn't mention that book.

SpaceAholic
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Posts: 3048
From: Sierra Vista, Arizona
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 08-29-2013 06:48 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for SpaceAholic   Click Here to Email SpaceAholic     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by garymilgrom:
Mary is made out to be "the only thing keeping America from putting a satellite into orbit" for her work on hydyne, which supposedly gave the Redstone first stage one Jupiter C enough impulse to lift its payload.

She also wanted to call Hydyne "Bagel" because it was mixed with "LOX"...

garymilgrom
Member

Posts: 1602
From: Atlanta, GA, USA
Registered: Feb 2007

posted 08-29-2013 09:17 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for garymilgrom   Click Here to Email garymilgrom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Scott's correct and to be fair to the book her eccentricities are not hidden in any way by the author. One correction to the Booklist review at the top - I don't recall any mention of Mary working for free. Underpaid yes, but not free.

And I'm still wondering when Explorer 1 was named.

cspg
Member

Posts: 4140
From: Geneva, Switzerland
Registered: May 2006

posted 08-29-2013 03:32 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for cspg   Click Here to Email cspg     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
From SP-4402 Origins of NASA Names:
EXPLORER. The name "Explorer," designating NASA's scientific satellite series, originated before NASA was formed. "Explorer" was used in the 1930s for the U.S. Army Air Service-National Geographic stratosphere balloons. On 31 January 1958, when the first U.S. satellite was orbited by the U.S. Army as a contribution to the International Geophysical Year (IGY), Secretary of the Army Wilbur M. Brucker announced the satellite's name, Explorer 1. The name indicated the mission of this first satellite and its NASA successor-to explore the unknown.

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