Rise of the Rocket Girls Book Summary - Rise of the Rocket Girls Book explained in key points
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Rise of the Rocket Girls summary

Nathalia Holt

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

4.5 (20 ratings)
19 mins

Brief summary

Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt tells the story of the women who worked at NASA in the 1940s and 50s, and their role in the space race. It highlights the challenges they faced and their contributions to the success of NASA.

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    Rise of the Rocket Girls
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    Barbara Canright was the first of the female computers to work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

    In 1939, after winning a grant from the National Academy of Sciences, a rambunctious trio of friends – Ed Forman, Frank Malina and Jack Parsons – founded the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, or JPL, at the California Technical Institute. Among the first people they hired were Barbara and Richard Canright.

    Barbara and Richard had met at Caltech, where Richard was a graduate student and Barbara was a typist. This is also where Richard first met the founders of JPL.

    As the name suggests, JPL was a laboratory that created jet engines. One of the early plans was to build a jet engine that could quickly propel an airplane off the ground, the hope being to speed up launching procedures and shorten runways.

    JPL pursued this goal in a pretty straightforward manner, essentially just strapping powerful rockets onto small planes. Rockets were something that fascinated the team at JPL. Yet the word “rocket” was strongly associated with science fiction at the time, so, to sound professional and scientific, they claimed that their experiments dealt strictly with jet engines.

    These experiments required a lot of calculations, which is where Barbara Canright came in. She was a math whiz and could expertly crunch numbers to measure force and propulsion. Since there were no automated computers in the 1940s, it all had to be done by hand. A single experiment might take a week of calculations and fill up to eight notebooks.

    And so it wasn’t long before JPL started recruiting a new computing team to help Mrs. Canright with calculations. Two more female computers came on board: Virginia Prettyman and Macie Roberts. Interestingly, in those days the term “computer” was still used for people rather than machines as they were the ones who did the computing!

    Roberts was soon promoted to supervisor and charged with hiring new employees, and she set about establishing a female computer team. This was not a typical move in the early 1940s. Most places wouldn’t put a woman in charge of hiring and managing her own all-female division within an engineering department. But JPL wasn’t a typical place.

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    What is Rise of the Rocket Girls about?

    Rise of the Rocket Girls (2016) reveals the intriguing and enlightening stories of the women who worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. It traces the laboratory from its earliest days through to modern times, from its quirky beginnings to its role as one of NASA’s most important component parts. These women were responsible for crunching numbers and the important calculations that kept the United States in the space race and helped launch rockets, satellites and probes into the farthest corners of the solar system. Their influence cannot be denied. And, more than that, it must be acknowledged.

    Rise of the Rocket Girls Review

    Rise of the Rocket Girls (2016) by Nathalia Holt is a captivating account of the remarkable women who played a crucial role in the early days of NASA's space program. Here's why this book is worth reading:

    • The book sheds light on the often overlooked contributions of these unsung heroes, offering a fresh perspective on the history of space exploration.
    • Through interviews, research, and personal stories, the author brings these women to life, showcasing their intelligence, tenacity, and passion for science.
    • With its fascinating anecdotes and behind-the-scenes details, the book paints a vivid picture of the challenges these women faced and the groundbreaking work they accomplished.

    Who should read Rise of the Rocket Girls?

    • Readers who seek strong female role models
    • Science geeks
    • Space enthusiasts

    About the Author

    Nathalia Holt’s work has been featured in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Popular Science and the Atlantic. She spent years speaking to the women of JPL and compiling their stories. She is also the author of Cured: The People who Defeated HIV.

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    Rise of the Rocket Girls FAQs 

    What is the main message of Rise of the Rocket Girls?

    The main message of Rise of the Rocket Girls is the untold story of the women who helped launch America into space.

    How long does it take to read Rise of the Rocket Girls?

    The reading time for Rise of the Rocket Girls varies, but it typically takes several hours. The Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is Rise of the Rocket Girls a good book? Is it worth reading?

    Rise of the Rocket Girls is a fascinating read about the women pioneers in the space industry, definitely worth your time.

    Who is the author of Rise of the Rocket Girls?

    The author of Rise of the Rocket Girls is Nathalia Holt.

    What to read after Rise of the Rocket Girls?

    If you're wondering what to read next after Rise of the Rocket Girls, here are some recommendations we suggest:
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    • Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly
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