Rise of the Rocket Girls:
The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars
by Nathalia Holt
Let’s get a few things out of the way.
I am a college-educated social scientist with a handful of Women’s Studies classes to my name, courtesy of my liberal alma mater, the University of Maryland. Go Terps.
I am also the mother of a STEM-focused daughter, currently slaying her high-school honors-track pre-engineering program. She aspires to study mechanical engineering as an undergrad, and then on to aerospace engineering. My girl wants to be a rocket scientist, or something like that.
I couldn’t not read this book.
Maybe that was the problem – my expectations were too high.
Rise of the Rocket Girls tells the little known history of the women who helped create the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) during its early years. It profiles several women, from their initial employment as human computers to their eventual ascension to positions of leadership within NASA, and interweaves their stories through the decades.
I hate giving this book only 3 stars. The history of the women who helped build JPL is such a worthy endeavor, and I didn’t feel this author was up to the task.
The book seems less of a narrative, and more like chunks of various stories glued haphazardly together. There is a little history of JPL in there, plus overviews of some of the more famous missions. There is also a fair amount of profiling, defining the women through their clothing, hairstyles, and personal relationships to men.
None of it quite adds up to illustrate the “rise of the rocket girls” suggested by the title. Even more, the book is riddled with inconsistencies. One chapter describes the women celebrating their perceived equality in the workplace, followed by a chapter casually observing they still were paid less money than their male counterparts. In another chapter, a woman is fired for being too pregnant to work, and in the next chapter, JPL is praised for its mother-friendly flex schedules.
A frustrating read, to be sure.
I recommend it if only to support the importance of seeing women, especially the early pioneers, in STEM, but the subject deserves a better author.
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