Rise of the Rocket Girls unveils this forgotten history with nuance and insight, weaving in personal details about friendships, marriage, and motherhood with the technical problems these women solved, such as exactly how much fuel a rocket needed and how much would make it explode. And as the share of women graduating with technical degrees continues to plateau — and, in some cases, plummet — Holt’s book is an important reminder of how women’s work has been essential to advances in science and technology all along.
ThinkProgress spoke to Holt about the stories in her book, how JPL built and maintained such a strong group of female scientists, and the role of women in science and tech.
One thing that struck me is that in between all the details about JPL and all the science details, you really weave in a lot of detail about their personal lives. Is there a particular reason you felt like that was important?
In the beginning, I didn’t want to talk about their personal lives at all. I felt it would take away from what they did professionally, and from the contributions scientifically, and I worried if I talked too much about their personal lives it would undermine the contributions they had made.
Ultimately, I decided I wouldn’t be honoring their legacy if I didn’t tell the full story. Luckily, because this is a book, I had the space to tell both their scientific contributions and their personal lives. The reason I felt it was really important is because they were able to accomplish these incredibly long careers at a time when women with children did not typically work outside the home — so what they accomplished was really unique. They were able to do it because of very specific institutional dynamics and very specific ways that they were able to manage their personal lives as well, and I do think it’s a very powerful message for women today to hear.

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