Monday, July 04, 2016

NEWSHOUR BOOKSHELF - "Rise of the Rocket Girls"

"The unsung women heroes of America's space program" PBS NewsHour 6/30/2016


SUMMARY:  They were living, breathing, walking, talking calculators who were key to America's early space program.  And they were women — and largely forgotten.  At the time, the supercomputers that NASA now uses to crunch its numbers didn't exist.  Nathalia Holt looks to change the historic oversight in her new book, “Rise of the Rocket Girls.”  Holt talked with Jeffrey Brown at the Los Angeles Book Festival.

HARI SREENIVASAN (NewsHour):  Now the next addition to our summer reading list.

It's a look at some unsung American heroes in the space race, the women behind the scenes.

At the recent Los Angeles Book Festival, Jeffrey Brown sat down with Nathalia Holt, the author of “Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars.”

JEFFREY BROWN (NewsHour):  Tell me, who were the rocket girls?

NATHALIA HOLT, Author, “Rise of the Rocket Girls”:  They are these unsung heroes who have touched just about every NASA mission that you can think of.

And yet they were mostly forgotten by NASA and by the Jet Propulsion Lab, which is where they worked.  These women worked as computers.  And so, before all of the digital devices we have today…

JEFFREY BROWN:  Now, wait a minute.  Explain that, because I know they're called literally 'computers.'

NATHALIA HOLT:  This is their job title.


NATHALIA HOLT:  You actually needed humans to be able to do the calculations.

And so this is what they started out working as.  So, they only had pencil and paper, and these really loud mechanical calculators that couldn't do very much.  And, from that, they were able to calculate an incredible number of trajectories for spacecraft, propellants.

JEFFREY BROWN:  So they are literally computing and called computers.

NATHALIA HOLT:  Exactly, yes.

JEFFREY BROWN:  Before the age that we are now living in.

NATHALIA HOLT:  But then, once the first IBMs came in, then they became the first computer programmers in the lab.

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