Book review: ‘Rocket Girl’ shares the story of nation’s first female rocket scientist

By Stephanie Abney

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, Nov. 16 2013 1:00 p.m. MST

"ROCKET GIRL: The Story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America's First Female Rocket Scientist," by George D. Morgan, Prometheus Books, $18, 325 pages (nf)

George D. Morgan, playwright in residence at the California Institute of Technology, pens a tribute to his mother in “Rocket Girl: The Story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America’s First Female Rocket Scientist.” Very few people seem to be aware of Mary Morgan’s contribution to the launching of the first U.S. rocket into space. Her son hopes to set the record straight.

George Morgan’s mother was a very private person and kept no journals or records. There are no accounts of her childhood; no photographs and few memories she shared with anyone. It took her son seven years of research to uncover enough material to write this book.

Mary Morgan developed the Hydyne-LOX liquid fuel used in the launch of Explorer 1 but never received any credit publicly. Due to the top secret security clearance her work required, she was tight-lipped about her work around her family.

Her son quickly takes the reader from Morgan’s birth on a small farm in North Dakota in 1921 to her high school graduation. Her upbringing was very cold and life was hard. After graduation she ran away from home to attend DeSales College on a small scholarship she kept secret from her parents.

Interspersed through the book are accounts of other key players, including Wehner von Braun, the famous German rocket scientist, and Sergei Vorolev, the lead Soviet rocket engineer, who sent Sputnik to orbit the Earth on Oct. 5, 1957. The account even includes entries of George Morgan’s own angst as he intersperses snippets from his life and his research throughout the pages of the book, in present tense. The rest of the book is told in past tense.

The author jumps from the details of one person to another so quickly that by the time the reader determines who he is writing about, he goes on to another account half-way around the world, or even from a different decade, with use of flashbacks and backstories, switching as often as two or three paragraphs of text.

Despite the confusion of this style of writing, Mary Morgan’s life story is fascinating and a compelling read. It includes profanity and quite a number of swear words. Mature readers with an interest in science, space and women’s studies may find this to be well worth their time.

If you go ...

What: George D. Morgan book signing

When: Saturday, Nov. 23, 1 p.m.

Where: Barnes and Noble, Sugarhouse McIntyre Center, 1104 E. 2100 South, Salt Lake City

Web: barnesandnoble.com

Also ...

When: Saturday, Nov. 23, 5 p.m.

Where: The King's English, 1511 S. 1500 East, Salt Lake City

Web: kingsenglish.com

Note: Places in the signing line are reserved for those who purchase a copy of the featured book from The King's English.

Stephanie Abney, eternal optimist, retired schoolteacher and freelance writer, lives in Mesa, Ariz., with her husband, Jim. They have five children and 18 grandchildren. Email is sabneyfeedback@cox.net and she blogs at stephaniesaysso.blogspot.com.

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