Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Review: Rocket Girls. If You Can Read, Thank A.... 2018 On-line Floricanto

Nathalia Holt. Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us from Missiles to the Moon to Mars. New York, New York: Back Bay Books (Little, Brown and Company), 2017.
ISBN 9781432837747

Michael Sedano

I was a junior high school student when page one of the Redlands Daily Facts showed my dentist with the nation’s first artificial satellite, Dr. Miller and Vanguard I. The gold softball needed a filling. A few weeks later a classmate, whose father helped assemble the sphere, described the thing beeping forlornly in the Cape Canaveral surf. After that missile failure, the job went to JPL, where engineers and computers were ready and got the job done.

Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us from Missiles to the Moon to Mars recounts the beginnings of Jet Propulsion Laboratory, together with careers of women geniuses whose long underlooked work is only now coming to the public eye.

Suitably, a few lines of the code these women wrote to guide Voyager into the stars beyond our solar system are recorded on a golden record cruising out there, along with a bit of Johnny B. Goode and other sounds of earth.

Thanks to the popular movie, Hidden Figures, readers of Nathalia Holt’s creative non-fiction masterwork have key vocabulary and require little backgrounding to enjoy the story of JPL’s computers. Holt's deft hand seemingly lets the story tell itself. Where there’s technical matter, Holt has a good feel for clarity, analogy, and explanation.

Rise of the Rocket Girls isn’t an easy exposé about discrimination, nor a dirge for lost potential because these women are incredibly smart and could have been contenders for engineering prizes and professorships.

Out of her own hard work, Nathalia Holt assembles a useful, gripping story of women who work with their minds and sharp pencils to figure out how things work with missiles and fuels to hit targets millions of miles distant, take a few pictures, then keep on going to another world. The computers' world discriminated against them by its nature. These women prove men were wrong, are wrong. Men, women, children, should see how to deal with that world.

What’s gripping is knowing nothing will come to them of their scientific work, in their own time. JPL's computers accepted things as they were, taking whatever came their way, many happy to have a job in mathematics. Outsiders would see a Pasadena housewife, prim and properly made up.

Holt focuses on the quiet exceptionality of these women, matter-of-factly handling gender and racial segregation. There’s a good paragraph on a computer’s first pant suit, and discussion of reasons to keep the workplace man-free. Holt assembles an array of the pendeji of the engineering world, she's not hiding them. Holt keeps them as window dressing on the set, the necessary both sides of the space coin making men and women one team. One team; there’s the underlying raison d’etre of Holt’s account, cultural mores aside, this was a team for the ages and here are equals. You are equal.

There was a beauty contest for the women of JPL. A computer came in near the top: she ran for the honor. There was a pig engineer plastering offensive photographs in his office; the computers didn’t go unaccompanied there otherwise didn’t complain about the man.

Computers get married. And dress attractively in the mode o’day—the author describes some of their outfits. Computers have romances. And get divorced. Holt keeps her reader abreast of the sorority-like ambiente the heads of the section nurture. One woman's preference becomes her successor's. Hiring only women maintains an optimally functioning workplace. For JPL, the computers’ mutuality creates a synergy of so much brain power in one place that even lunchtimes become productive brainstorms.

The big shot lab director blasts women hires as inherently temporary, hire them and they quit to have babies. It’s true. Holt shows working mothers moving in and out of JPL's work force. These women come so uniquely qualified that JPL adopts flexible hours reflecting the employer's need to get work done, not fit it into fixed schedules. There's an account of a woman forced to take salary when her overtime breaks the budget. Paid hourly wages, computing women are engineers sans degrees. Holt makes that a focus point. The computers are the best bargain in the history of science. Holt is too polite to say that.

The words of one computer sum up these people's career: “in this job you want me to look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man, and work like a dog.” The computers faced demanding, out-of-this-world performance standards. They exceeded them.

But they were expendable. Toward the end of the story, machine computers obviate the human computers, and as personal computers and supercomputers take over, JPL lays off surplus geniuses.

All this plays out quietly, sometimes brutally understated. Holt doesn’t really need to hone an edge here, simply reporting facts reveals a failure in the most critical element of teamwork: knowing the gente.

Of the fiftieth anniversary celebration of the launch of Explorer I, Holt wants people to remember this:

Soft light sparkles onto the archways and tall columns of the opulent Caltech Athenaeum. It was an occasion like none other at JPL: the fiftieth anniversary of Explorer I. On a January night in 2008, the Institute celebrated that fateful day the first American satellite left earth’s atmosphere. Sadly, when making up the guest list for the anniversary, JPL forgot some important names. Five decades earlier, Barbara and Margie had sat in the control room and tracked the satellite as it flew through the sky, but in 2008, they were in their homes in Pasadena just a few miles away from the celebration. They are two of the last people who remember JPL’s control room that night, and their work formed our first steps into space. (283)

Sabes que? None of this history should be new, it should be known. That the story is so well told doesn’t make the absence worth it. Holt offers a well-ordered chronology, effectively threaded with elements giving the historical scope unity and coherence. The research packs in lots of factual data and recall like looking into a particular starry night.

Lazy journalists and editors could have informed publics about this material. Long since declassified, a lot wasn't secret. Dangerous maybe to some interests. Holt isn’t grinding axes nor is she making up women who chafed against the strictures that held them back. These were women of their time; this is how these women fit into their world.

Being a computer joined a sisterhood of professionals skilled at getting along and going along, self-effacing high achievers, women not making waves. The women are anglo, black, Asian--didn’t see any Chicanas—church-goers. There’s a beautiful moment when one computer is addressed as “Dr.” She beams with pride at the assumption an un-degreed woman would not hold the title. What else could a woman have done?

You can download an app from JPL/NASA that animate the Voyager craft following a trajectory written by the Rocket Girls. What you'll see is what the computers saw as they filled out those columns.  Link.

Supplementing reading research and her observations, Nathalia Holt interviewed a host of computers whom she met in and around their Pasadena and South Pasadena homes. Several computers are dead. Given the severity of their initiation, colleagues became lifelong friends, and they provided the author with rich material. Most shared snapshots, personal and ceremonial groups, which Holt's publisher includes in abundance. A reader can put faces to names. Be watchful for the humorous Martian landscape with elaborate buildings just off Rover’s beaten path.

This is a necessary book for younger readers. I want my fifth-grade granddaughter to read Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us from Missiles to the Moon to Mars. I want adolescent boys reading Rocket Girls. I want the grad students at CalTech to read Rocket Girls. I know the book club of the local Stanford raza alumni has chosen Rocket Girls for its next meeting.

Girls with scientific acumen will face a world not much different from what they’ll see in this book. Nor will a gender and equality revolution come within the next span of careers. In important ways, this work of non-fiction meets the guidelines of the phrase “literature as equipment for living”. Awareness and acknowledgement can initiate cultural change, in the right way.

Since Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us from Missiles to the Moon to Mars is also a story of the founding of JPL in the hills above Pasadena, it’s a natural as 2018’s Pasadena Public Library's One City, One Story community reading title. It’s suitable for your community’s “One Read” program. The story needs telling. You need to read it.

It's 7:30. Do You Know Where Your Future Is?

The first bell just rang and your future is taking their places in ranks and files of desks in an elementary school. There's probably a classroom like this within a mile from your bookshelves.

A lot of those kids can't read, won't grow up liking to read, and have a humdrum future ahead of them. And they're the people supposed to produce a thriving economy to keep you warm in your old age. And vote informedly. Good luck.

Your future needn't go wanting for lack of a reading culture. Volunteer to tutor early readers at that school. One kid at a time is more than no kids getting a boost, teachers not getting a higher score on those tests for want of one kid.

Kids who read to- or beyond grade level do measurably better in math and science. It's all word problems, gente.

A nationwide program, Reading Partners, recruits volunteers for early reader tutoring. Reading Partners is affiliated with Americorps, so maybe Reading Partners is in your community. Click here for links to Reading Partners and Americorps.

Right now I should remind you of your tía who never cut you a break, made you do the right thing because "¡sin vergüenza! you could have helped and you didn't?" Or the elder who rolls his eyes at your generation when learning you could have at least found out if there's a program, "mmn, peor." But I won't.

Now right here I should pull out the Abelardo "stupid america" card about the exploding kids and lost futures. Here's a link. Instead, look at that drawing Miguel, a 3d grader, did of his reading partner, a greñudo--obviously--named Michael. This is priceless, gente. And this kid, my tocayo, is going to be a reader.

Mail Bag
From Arte Publico Press
The Center for Mexican American Studies at the University of Houston is now accepting applications for the IUPLR/Mellon Fellowship Program (academic year 2018-19) funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The program supports doctoral students in the humanities who are writing dissertations in Latina/o studies. The fellowship at the University of Houston specifically supports doctoral students writing their dissertation on a theme related to US Latino Humanities. The fellowship facilitates completion of the dissertation and provides professional development, writing support, and mentoring from Latina/o faculty members. The fellowship includes a $25,000 stipend, participation in an intensive summer institute in Chicago, and professionalization and writing workshops and programs.

For more information about this, a fabled "free ride", haz click: https://iuplr.uic.edu/iuplr/mellon-fellows-program

In the same email, an offer you might not want to refuse:
Take 35% off your entire purchase by calling 800-633-ARTE from now until January 20, 2018. Remember to mention coupon code JANUARY2018 when placing your order. Feel free to share this discount with family and friends! Offer expires: January 20, 2018, 5:00 p.m. CST

La Bloga On-line Floricanto New Year 2018

The work of poets finds its reward in having a public. The labor of poetry, moderating a public forum where poets submit work for publication, remains, like the computers of the space age, largely unknown labor. Also like rocket science, poetry is an act of rising, every launch endeavoring after new perspective, ever-reaching toward the sublime.

Moderators for this edition of La Bloga On-Line Floricanto include Sharon Elliott, Odilia Galván Rodríguez, Sonia Gutíerrez, Edward Vidaurre and Iris de Anda. These are the computers of the Facebook poetry community founded in 2010 by Francisco X. Alarcón as Poets Responding to SB 1070. The evolution of Arizona state-endorsed hatred into Federally mandated open-mindedness, influenced a name change to Poets Responding. Link.

Here are five voices submitted by the Moderators of Poets Responding for the first La Bloga On-line Floricanto of 2018. The Year of the Vote, gente. GOTV. And read poetry.

Forgotten Warriors, Martina Gallegos
Merri Effin Creesmas, Ramon Piñero
Love, Maria Luisa Arroyo
Palestina, Arnoldo Garcia
Alchemy of Love (Holy-Day Blessing), Frank Acosta

Forgotten Warriors
By Martina Gallegos

on foreign lands
sacrifice their lives
for a country
that declares
them invisible
until it’s time to fight
for the freedoms of others;
then all barriers collapse
like a domino effect, and
the hopeful goodbyes begin.

Warriors dream
of a warm welcome home
to a family who lived
in endless despair
for the uncertainty
their loved ones may face
upon their return
to the land of liberty.

Warriors return
to their adopted country,
but their welcome
gets overshadowed
by the surprise that they’ll get
deported to a country
they barely know, and
whose loyalty they never had.
Their fight for freedom
only gets them stuck in limbo
separated by an invisible wall.
Citizens deposed by one country
and rejected by another,
the ironies of war.

Merri Effin Creesmas
By Ramon Piñero

At war,
on the tarmac
some in boxes
others on
jingo patriots
wearing and
waving plastic
made in china
‘merican flags.

At war,
still blathering
why they
hate us,
as drones
fly overhead
missiles fired
from the
of your
living room
and yet you
wonder why

Still, at war
after so
many years
young lives
young lives
into the
of history

At war, still
gold stars
are given
as the
ever try
to hug
a gold
or sit
and have
tea and
with it.

At war,
still no
end in
we are
a new crop
of war loving
video gaming
of Herr
in renewable
lives, no lessons
learned. Soon
to be laid
the planet
lives set
to zero.

War, still
the only
in existence.

By Maria Luisa Arroyo
A poem dedicated to my mom and to all my brothers

I refuse to use Daddy's death
as Mami's marker for freedom.
Mami and Daddy loved each other
for 49 years - more than five times
the length of my one failed marriage.
The alchemy of their love, a mystery I respect.
In Mami's mind, the man she loves
has traveled far with no return -
except in her dreams. There, he stands
whole again. No blindness. No wheelchair.
No gout. No dentures. He returns for her love.

By Arnoldo Garcia

Ahed Tamimi
My sister’s daughter
She bites the hands
that occupy & attempt
to disembowel our roots
Ahed slaps the apartheid army
with her dignity
The long hair intifada
The woman-to-be
Her fists the seeds
Her word the storm of stones
Her body Palestine

Alchemy of Love (Holy-Day Blessing)
By Frank Acosta

Never lose grace in faith
Believing there is beauty
To be found in everyone
All of us at one time
Have walked in brokenness
Through the dark corridors
Of our hearts and minds
An empathetic kindness
Compassion without condition
Received from another
Can be the spark that turns
A lost, dark, wounded soul
Towards the healing of light
Mending frayed, fragile lives
Prayers reaching to embrace
The stranger as relation
Engenders the true power of love
I say this with humble gratitude
Knowing I have received love
Undeserved; given love, unrequited
We are called to walk a sacred manner
Believing there is alchemy in love

Poets of La Bloga On-line Floricanto New Year 2018
Forgotten Warriors, Martina Gallegos
Merri Effin Creesmas, Ramon Piñero
Love, Maria Luisa Arroyo
Palestina, Arnoldo Garcia
Alchemy of Love (Holy-Day Blessing), Frank Acosta

Martina was born and raised in Mexico and came to the United States at almost fifteen.
While recuperating from a work injury and stroke, she got a Master’s degree from Grand Canyon University. Works appeared in the Altadena Poetry Review: Anthology 2015 and 2017, Hometown Pasadena, Spirit Fire Review, PSH, Silver Birch Press, La Bloga, Central Coast Poetry Show, Lummox, vocal.media, and Basta!

Born in Manatí, Puerto Rico and raised in Springfield, MA, María Luisa Arroyo, Assistant Professor of Writing & First-Year Studies at Bay Path University, motivates herself and her students to harness the power of writing with a purpose and of self-expression. Her educational journey as a first-generation college student included studying German, her third language, at Colby, Tufts and Harvard; and traveling to 12 countries, including Iran for a summer where she activated her self-taught Farsi. A Massachusetts Cultural Council Poetry Fellow and New England Public Radio (NEPR) Arts & Humanities Award recipient, María has taught English composition, creative writing and German at the college level. For over 15 years now, María Luisa has facilitated workshops on ekphrastic poetry, multicultural/multilingual poetry, and the ghazal as a poetic form. Calyx: A Journal of Art and Literature by Women and WomenArts Quarterly Review are among the journals, in which her poems appear. Her book publications include her poetry collection, Gathering Words: Recogiendo Palabras, and a multicultural, inter-generational anthology, Bullying: Replies, Rebuttals, Confessions and Catharsis, which she co-edited with acclaimed Nuyorican poet and playwright, Magdalena Gómez.

Arnoldo García was born in Brownsville, TX and was a migrant farmworker in his youth. Currently living in Oakland, he just edited and published a mini-anthology of called "Poets against War & Racism," featuring five poets with indigenous and new roots in the Americas and Africa. You can order a copy by clicking on this link: https://artofthecommune.wordpress.com/2017/10/23/new-chapbook-poets-against-war-racism-poetas-contra-la-guerra-y-el-racism/ Arnoldo has started a monthly poetry reading series in Oakland at Akat Kalli Café held the second Thursday of each month. You can read more of his work and other Oakland poets at: http://lacarpadelfeo.blogspot.com

Frank de Jesus Acosta is principal of Acosta & Associates, a California-based consulting group that specializes in professional support services to public and private social change ventures in the areas of children, youth and family services, violence prevention, community development, and cultural fluency. Acosta provides writing and strategic professional support in research, planning, and development to foundations and community-centered institutions on select initiatives focused on advancing social justice, equity, and pluralism. In 2007, Acosta published "The History of Barrios Unidos," and is presently authoring and editing a book series focused on issues related to boys and young men of color for Arte Publico Press


Antonio SolisGomez said...

my grandaughter has a birthday on the 13th and i was struggling with what to give her and then i saw your review of rocket girls--synchonicity. placed an amazon order this am. gracias

Jose Carrillo said...

Mil Gracias/a thousand thanks, Em- great review! A meaningful gift for any young female. Viva la Bloga!