Meet the "Rocket Girls" Who Launched America Into Space

While the NASA "Rocket Boys" are often recognized for their work testing early rocket engines, America's space launch history is tied to a little-known fact: the exclusive group of mathematicians and scientists charting missions to space were largely a group of women.

The team driven by many women called "human computers" in the 1940s carried American satellites, lunar missions, and planetary explorations to the Moon and Mars. They would later become part of NASA's infamous Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

In a recent interview on NPR's "All Things Considered," Nathalia Holt, author of "Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars," explains before the digital age, humans made complex calculations. And during World War II, many of those humans were in fact, women.

"There is hardly a mission that you can find in NASA that these women haven't touched," she said.

Barbara Paulson was one of the women Holt tracked down for her book. She worked on space missions including the mission of satellite Explorer 1, launched on Jan. 31, 1958 right after the Sputnik mission.

"And I worked most of the night, through the night, at JPL with my mechanical pencil and graph paper and light table that I was working on. And that was all the equipment that I had," Paulson recalled.

But still today there are challenges for women in technology. According to the National Center for Women And Information Technology, just 18 percent of women today are awarded bachelor's degrees in computer and information sciences. A number of initiatives like Girls Who Code and even re-writes of science and technology history continue to address the technology gender gap.

We hope the renewed history of the rocket girls continues to inspire more girls and women to pursue STEM fields so the gender gap is sealed once and for all.

NEXT: The Technology And Engineering Gender Gap »

Related Stories:
The White House's New Initiative Writes STEM Women Back Into History
50 Years of Women In Space

Photo Credit: SSPL/Getty Images