Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Rise of The Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt

When someone mentions the early days of the space program they tend to think of men. But far before there was a space program there were the pioneers. And they weren’t men.
 It should be. Women have as much a place in the history of the space project as do the men.
In fact back before the Second World War there was a group of women who were casting their eyes to the skies. And they had only their math skills and a pencil and notebooks to work with. They were called human computers. Their job was to calculate jet velocities and plot missile trajectories.  
These women were known as computers. That designation was given because they computed numbers. They were mostly women because men were being seen as engineers. These women became the programmers.
There was no machine. That came later.
IBM was the one to provide the machine which had to have a language it could understand.  FORTRAN was that language. Directions were keypunched into the machine .
Later HAL became the language.
They were hired because they were good in math.
After the war their interests shifted to getting something called a rocket out of the atmosphere. They formed a company known as JPL. The word rocket was never used because that wasn’t the emphasis the government wanted.
The idea of calling them computers started a long time before the 40’s. Early astronomers in the 1700s would need computers to predict the return of Halley’s Comet. It was during the First World War that men and women worked as “ballistic computers” as they calculated the range of rifles, machine guns, and mortars on the battle field. During our depression years 450 people were working as computers as a part of the Works Progress Administration.
So it was nothing new.
Our space program could not have progressed as far if we didn’t have them. But they were pretty much unknown. So having this story reaching from the 1940’s to the present is needed.
It is a delight to read the development of our program following the women. It was not always easy for them, since ether also fell in live, had families, and held down their job. This was something not held against the men.
I would recommend this book for all who want a better picture of the history of exploration.

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