Synopses & Reviews
This is the extraordinary true story of America's first female rocket scientist. Told by her son, it describes Mary Sherman Morgan's crucial contribution to launching America's first satellite and the author's labyrinthine journey to uncover his mother's lost legacy -- one buried deep under a lifetime of secrets political, technological, and personal.
In 1938, a young German rocket enthusiast named Wernher von Braun had dreams of building a rocket that could fly him to the moon. In Ray, North Dakota, a young farm girl named Mary Sherman was attending high school. In an age when girls rarely dreamed of a career in science, Mary wanted to be a chemist. A decade later the dreams of these two disparate individuals would coalesce in ways neither could have imagined.
;World War II and the Cold War space race with the Russians changed the fates of both von Braun and Mary Sherman Morgan. When von Braun and other top engineers could not find a solution to the repeated failures that plagued the nascent US rocket program, North American Aviation, where Sherman Morgan then worked, was given the challenge. Recognizing her talent for chemistry, company management turned the assignment over to young Mary.
In the end, America succeeded in launching rockets into space, but only because of the joint efforts of the brilliant farm girl from North Dakota and the famous German scientist. While von Braun went on to become a high-profile figure in NASA's manned space flight, Mary Sherman Morgan and her contributions fell into obscurity -- until now.
"Playwright George Morgan (Second to Die) knew that his mother, Mary Sherman Morgan, had done important work as a rocket scientist for the U.S. during the Cold War, but it wasn't until her funeral in 2004 that he began to understand the extent of her contributions. At the service, a man who had worked with Mary told George that she had 'single-handedly saved America's space program... and nobody knows it but a handful of old men.' In addition to being a very private person, Mary was further constrained by the top-secret status of her projects. She kept such a low profile that when famed German scientist Wernher von Braun wrote to her, he addressed the letter to a 'Dear Unknown Lady.' In the early 1950s, Morgan with only a high school diploma was the sole female analyst among 900 rocket scientists at North American Aviation. If it weren't for her invention of the propellant hydyne, America's first satellite would've never made it off the ground. Based on a play of the same name that Morgan put on in 2008, this portrait of a mother shrouded in mystery and largely forgotten by the field she pioneered is a compelling read, though folks looking for a more objective biography might be put off by Morgan's dramatic flourishes and the lack of critical distance between author and subject. Agent: Deborah Ritchken, the Marsal Lyon Literary Agency. (July)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"A dramatic, suspenseful tale." Scientific American
An intriguing biography....The personal story and family detective work are truly gripping, and Mary, in all her contradictions, emerges as a fascinating subject. Booklist
About the Author
George D. Morgan (Santa Paula, CA) is the Playwright in Residence at the California Institute of Technology. He has written more than a dozen stage plays and musicals, including Second to Die, Nevada Belle, and Thunder in the Valley. He is the son of Mary Sherman Morgan, America's first female rocket scientist.