Chances are you never heard of Mary Sherman Morgan. Yet, without her the American space program would have taken a very different path. As America’s first female rocket scientist, Morgan discovered the formula for the rocket fuel that allowed the country to launch its first satellite into space.
In Rocket Girl, George D. Morgan tells the story not only of his remarkable mother but of the birth of the space race, including the German rocket scientists who aided both the U.S. and Russia in the early days of rocketry. It is a fascinating tale.
But Rocket Girl is also a detective story featuring George Morgan himself. Mary Sherman Morgan was so secretive about her work and such a reserved parent that Morgan himself did not know of her achievements until shortly before her death. When he wrote her obituary, the New York Times refused to publish it because it said there was not enough information to substantiate his claims on her behalf. This set Morgan on the trail of documentation which resulted in a play, which was very successfully performed at Cal Tech, and later to this book.
To prove exactly how important his mother had been to the space industry and also to attempt to understand her as a distant parent with many odd ways, Morgan conducted many interviews with her former co-workers and family members and collected as many documents and other evidence as possible.
The result of all of this is the story of a woman born in poverty to an unloving family who managed to escape that life and open the doors for women in the space industry through her sheer brilliance. It is also the story of a woman who had trouble establishing deep personal relationships, especially with her own children. The narrative includes much of the story of Werner von Braun and his associates and the other former Nazi scientists who made the space race possible. And it is the story of Morgan’s search for his mother’s past, all rolled into one fascinating and well-written book.
As is often the case with biographies, Morgan readily admits this is a work of “creative non-fiction.” Many of the details of his mother’s early life and specifics of conversations have had to be imagined but the events are true. The book will be of interest to anyone who has an interest in the space industry or in women’s roles in modern American history.