Book Review: Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt


AuthorNathalia Holt
Title: Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars
Narrator: Erin Bennett
Publication Info: Hachette Audio (2016)
Summary/Review:

This book tells the story of several women who worked at the Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL) in Pasedena, California in the 40s, 50s, 60s, and 70s.  Their work was instrumental in creating missiles for military use and rockets that lifted their payloads into space.  They were particularly key in working on Ranger and Surveyor missions to the Moon that prepared the way for Apollo, the Mariner missions to Venus, Mars, and Mercury, and the Voyager program missions to Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune. Holt interviewed several women who worked at the JPL to get their perspectives on this age of discovery.

Many of the women got their start as “computers,” who were JPL employees who performed mathematical computations (a usage of the term that’s been made familiar by the book and movie Hidden Figures).  Working as a computer provided an opportunity for women who studied mathematics to use their skills.  While it was a support position to the (predominantly male) engineers, the position was highly-regarded within JPL and well paid.  The group of women working together, with women supervisors, also felt that they had a close-knit family at JPL.  Not everything was positive as the group of women felt that they had to look out for one another at office parties when men were on the prowl. Woman employees were also fired when they got pregnant.

Holt does a great job of telling these women’s stories from their roles in furthering interplanetary exploration to their everyday lives of marriages, raising children, and even oddities like a JPL beauty contest. As Holt notes, it was the progressive hiring practices at JPL that made it possible to have enough women to even to something as seemingly outdated as a beauty contest.

Recommended books:

Rating: ****

Podcasts of the Week Ending July 20


This American Life :: Save the Girl

Stories of men trying to save women, and not taking into account whether they even need to be saved.

Next Left :: Pramila Jayapal Is Not Backing Down

An interview with the Congresswoman from Washington, one of my favorite present-day politicians.

Travel with Rick Steves :: Pluto, One Giant Leap, Astronaut’s View

Rick Steves usually talks about travel in Europe, but here he interviews scientists exploring Pluto, the author of a book on the ordinary people who made the Apollo program possible, and an interview for astronaut Chris Hadfield.


Running tally of 2019 Podcast of the Week appearances:

Book Review: An astronaut’s guide to life on earth by Chris Hadfield


Author: Chris Hadfield
TitleAn astronaut’s guide to life on earth
Publication Info: New York, NY : Little, Brown and Co., 2013.

Summary/Review:

Like many people I was charmed by Chris Hadfield’s social media presence on Twitter, Tumblr, YouTube et al during his time as commander aboard the International Space Station in 2012-13.  So I was pleased to read his autobiography to learn more about the man who reignited my fascination with space exploration.  Hadfield was among the first astronauts selected by the Canadian Space Agency and prior to his time aboard the ISS he flew on two space shuttle missions.  Hadfield describes the hard work he put in to become (and remain) an astronaut, his willingness to learn to do just about anything, and the necessity of working in a team.  A frequent refrain in this book is “being an astronaut is a whole lot more than going to space (although that part is really awesome)” as he relates the significant time spent training and preparing (and sometimes learning skills he may never use, but made him more versatile) as well as public appearances to promote the space program.  Hadfield the memoirist seems as delightful as Hadfield the social media star, and I enjoyed reading this book.
Recommended booksPacking for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach, Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America’s Race to the Moon by Alan Shepard, Deke Slayton, Jay Barbree, Howard Benedict,  Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13 by Jeffrey Kluger, James Lovell, and The Right Stuff by Tom Wolfe,
Rating: ****

Book Review: Laika by Nick Abadzis


AuthorNick Abadzis & Hilary Sycamore (illustrator)
TitleLaika
Publication Info: New York : First Second, 2007.
ISBN: 1596431016
Summary/Review:

This graphic ‘novel’ tells the story of the first dog in space, launched by the Soviet Union space program in 1957, with no provisions for returning her to earth.  Laika’s story from a Moscow street dog to her final journey is heart-renderingly told through the pages of beautiful illustrations.  Central human characters include legendary Soviet rocket engineer and Sergei Korolev and the fictionalized dog caretaker for the space program, Yelena Alexandrovna Dubrovsky.  Both are complex, fully-realized characters that add to the weight of what as being done to Laika in the name of science and advancement of humankind.

Favorite Passages:

“For once, it seems there’s nothing to worry about for the time being.  Of course, nothing lasts.  And why worry about that? One must learn not to.  Every day, every moment is a frontier to a country, that once crossed, can never be returned to.  Most of the time we don’t notice.  Which is just how it should be.  The secret is not to worry. You can’t back.  Although, those you leave behind will still think of you.  Most of the time, we don’t notice the small, gradual changes only the sudden unexpected ones.  But, once you understand nothing lasts everything’s all right.  After all, something always comes along that changes everything.  And once you realize this, you find that you’re no longer imprisoned by this truth but freed by it.”  – p. 111-116

Recommended booksThe Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years by Chingiz Aitmatov
Rating: ****