Tag Archives: space

The Women Who Propelled Us

“Before Apple, before IBM, and before our modern definition of a central processing unit partnered with memory, the word computer referred simply to a person who computes. Using only paper, a pencil, and their minds, these computers tackled complex mathematical equations” (Holt 13).


By: Danielle Prostrollo 

As a woman attempting to make my own contribution to our collective experience I am always keen to learn more about those who have done the impossible, broken ‘glass ceilings’, and changed their field – in little or large ways.  And the human computers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory did exactly that.

The forthcoming film Hidden Figures based on the book of the same name, by Margot Lee Shetterly, specifically follows the lives of several female African American human computers who were vital to America’s success in the space race. The film has already garnered a lot of attention from the media, shining a spotlight to the extraordinary contribution of this group of women.

To learn more I picked up Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from missiles to the Moon to Mars by Nathalia Holt and took to the Internet.

My investigation ended up focusing on two women:
1) Barbara “Barby” Canright
2) Macie Roberts

Barby was with the Lab from the beginning, starting out her career as a typist at Caltech (where JPL got its start). She and her husband Richard were friends with the “Suicide Squad” that founded JPL – Jack Parsons, Frank Malina, and Ed Forman.

In school she had always done well in mathematics and science but never imagined a possible career in the field. Despite this, she was ultimately responsible for the thrust-to-weight ratio – an equation that compared performance of the engines under different conditions.

Macie came to JPL having never heard of human computers but quickly rose through the ranks to become the computer supervisor. Before coming to the lab she had a career as an IRS auditor, learning the physics of rocketry at a late age. Because of this, she was a stickler for correct terminology. If you incorrectly called rocket propellant “fuel” she would explain that fuel does not have an oxidizer in it, which is necessary to get the rocket to go anywhere (and if there’s no oxygen in the atmosphere then the rocket will need its own supply of an oxydizer).

As the supervisor Macie was in charge of hiring on new computers. She opted to keep the team women-only in order to promote a cohesive, family-like atmosphere but also because she couldn’t envision a man taking orders from her. We’ve made great strides in all kinds of equality since the ‘60s but there is still far to go!


Holt, N. (2016). Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars.


Worrall, Simon. “The Secret History of the Women Who Got Us Beyond the Moon.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society, 8 May 2016. Web.


Popova, Maria. “The Rise of Rocket Girls: The Untold Story of the Remarkable Women Who Powered Space Exploration.” Brain Pickings. N.p., 14 Apr. 2016. Web.


Ouellette, Jennifer. “Meet the Forgotten ‘Rocket Girls’ Who Helped NASA Reach the Stars .” Gizmodo. Gawker Media, 07 Apr. 2016. Web.


Atkinson, Joe. “From Computers to Leaders: Women at NASA Langley.” NASA. NASA, 24 Aug. 2015. Web.


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Record Breakers Summer Reading Challenge

record breakers logoThe Memorial Library is again partnering with the Children’s Library to host
activities for the Reading Agency’s Summer Reading Challenge. This year the theme is Record Breakers, and we’ll be celebrating some American pioneers, from space travel to aviation, as well as throwing in a tall tale celebrating a woman who may not have been real, but certainly broke some records!

Apollo_11_1998_scanOur first event on 22 July will (almost) coincide with the 44th anniversary of the moon landing.  Children will learn about some of the first animals in space, the Apollo missions and what it was like to be the first humans on the moon. We even found a copy of the customs form the Apollo 11 crew had to submit when they returned to Hawaii! We’ll be writing some space-themed poetry, and maybe even a limerick or two.

The following week, 29 July, we’ll be hosting a paper airplane competition! First things first though, and we’ll talk about lift and how planes stay in the air and
some of the early aviation pioneers, the Wright Brothers, Charles Lindbergh physics-forces-paper-airplaneand Amelia Earhart. Once that is covered, kids will have a chance to fold and fly paper airplanes, with prizes for the plane that flies the furthest, the longest and is the most creative!

sally ann... crockett coverOn 19 August, we’ll be reading the story of Sally Ann Thunder Ann Whirlwind Crockett by Stephen Kellogg. Although she is a tall tale, Sally Ann set records throughout the frontier, from wrestling alligators and out-screaming eagles to out-grinning bears. Kids will learn about the different elements of a story and have the chance to write their own tale of a character who could out-do everyone around, even when it was not expected of them.

We’ll be posting some pictures of the events and the poetry, planes and tales so keep an eye out over the next month! If you (or your child) is 8-12 and you’d like to attend any of these events call us at 01603 774747 to reserve your place today!

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The Solstice

Sometime in November of 1770, crowds took to the streets of London to gaze upwards. The sun was bright and Londoners were able to look at it directly without the use of what Benjamin Franklin called ‘smoked glasses’, for the ‘common smoke of the city’ was protection enough. What they saw was at once amazing and mysterious. Dark shadows, or clouds, or inexplicable black spots could be made out on the sun’s surface. Nobody knew for certain what they were looking at, but some had ideas. Continue reading

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