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Book Review: Rocket Girl – The Story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America’s First Female Rocket Scientist

Rocket Girl: The Story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America’s First Female Rocket Scientist by George D. Morgan; Prometheus Books; Amherst, New York; $18.00 (soft cover); July 2013.

No doubt, many have been absorbed by Homer Hickam’s Rocket Boys (also known as October Sky).

But this book captures a lost legacy surrounding Mary Sherman Morgan. It’s a compelling read about a woman that ascended the male-dominated heights in the early days of the space program to become a true “gender bender” that shaped rocket engineering.

The book’s foreword sets the stage, written by Ashley Stroupe. As a robotics engineer at Jet Propulsion Laboratory – the first woman to drive a rover on Mars – she writes about the “open doors” made available to her, “not the world Mary Sherman Morgan faced.”

This volume is an absorbing biography, one that called upon the author to do detective work that details one woman’s legacy that enabled America’s space program to, quite literally, get off the ground.

Morgan worked at North American Aviation’s Rocketdyne Division. As a Theoretical Performance Specialist — a job that required her to mathematically calculate the expected performance of a new rocket fuel, hydyne — Mary Sherman Morgan’s work enabled the Jupiter-C rocket to toss into Earth orbit the first U.S. satellite into orbit, Explorer 1.

The author of this passionate volume is George D. Morgan, a playwright in Residence at the California Institute of Technology. He writes of his mother: “She was a genius at everything she did but at nothing else was she more skilled than her prankish, stealthy campaign of personal self-erasure.”

You’ll find this book a pleasing and enlightening read. It underscores the need to give credit and credence to the many contributions that women scientists, like Morgan, gave and continue to give, to shape the country’s space endeavors.

Watch a BBC video on Rocket Girl at:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-23349135

For more information on this book, go to:

http://www.prometheusbooks.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=2176

By Leonard David

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