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The Human Computers: Ladies Who Launch

To the untrained eye, they may seem like ladies at desks, typing away at machines and scribbling on documents – but these women represent the first integral pieces of ‘technology’ at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. Affectionately named ‘human computers’, and aptly so, as their work produced the calculations which launched rockets during the second world war.

In 1940, a founding father of JPL – Frank Malina, approached two students at the Guggenheim Aeronautical Laboratory, husband and wife Richard and Barbra Carnright – who were part of a group of students known as the ‘Suicide Squad’, due to their number of failed experiments – the pair accepted the offer to begin working under Malina. Barbra Carnright became the very first woman to ever work at the Jet Propulsion Lab – but unfortunately due to unavailability of maternity leave, had to quit in 1943.


FURTHER READING:

Rise Of The Rocket Girls, Nathalia Holt

In this New York Times best-selling book, Holt chronicles the lives and times of the women in aerospace who have, for a long time, gone unseen. Including Barbra Carnright and delves further into the 70s misogyny of aerospace.

Rise Of The Rocket Girls On Amazon


The JPL Today

Today, The Jet Lab is very much Mars focused. As with a lot of NASA Missions, the goal is to explore our neighbouring planets, and leading the Mars Rover project is Mimi Aung. Having taken charge of one project to another, in this clip from ‘Space Queens’, she discusses with NASA Chief Jim Bridenstine her progress on the project and the need to land a rover on Mars.


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