kareila: hidden between stacks of books (books)
[personal profile] kareila posting in [community profile] kareila_books
Although the writing style grated on me at times, I found this account of the early space program to be very interesting. It follows the personal and professional lives of several of the women who worked at JPL from its founding during World War 2, through the Voyager program in the 1970s and beyond. The women were all "computers" in the pre-microchip sense of the term, responsible for the calculations behind the earliest rocket designs, then spacecraft trajectories, signal acquisition and processing, and eventually modern software engineering. Because the earliest supervisors of the computing group were determined to maintain a sisterhood of brilliant women working alongside the male-dominated engineering fields, a culture was formed that persisted through an era where maternity leave was nonexistent and women could be fired for getting pregnant. Every woman featured in the book married at some point and most did have children; some left and never came back, but others were able to leave and return, relying on a great deal of domestic support. Another marker of social progress was the JPL beauty contest, named Miss Guided Missile in the 1950s, the Queen of Outer Space in the 1960s, and finally phased out in the 1970s. I'm glad the author was able to interview so many of her subjects and include their first-hand reminiscences in the material for her book, but I found myself wishing she had tried to use their exact words instead of paraphrasing their recollections into a reconstructed narrative.

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