Astro Turf: The Private Life of Rocket Science, by M.G. Lord
After the launch of Explorer 1 in 1958, spacecraft trajectories began to be JPL’s stock-in-trade.
Introduced in 1952, the Friden SRW calculator weighed forty-two pounds, contained two registers and over one hundred keys. It was nearly always operated by a woman. An early advertisement for the firm, which was founded by Swedish immigrant Carl Friden in the 1930s, showed a voluptuous woman poised with her hands over the keys. Nor were the devices unique to engineering. At insurance companies, rooms full of women used them to compute actuarial tables. The relentless pounding, one listener remarked, was like the thrum of a marching army.
At JPL, computresses made up “Section 23,” an all-female department that some engineers have compared to a convent and others to a harem. They were expected to have the devotion of nuns and to relinquish aspirations to the engineering priesthood. Insofar as JPL had a social season, it involved the competition among these women and other female staff for the title of Miss Guided Missile. Although a torpedo brassiere might thrust a contestant to the forefront — one campaign manager described his candidate as a “shapely craft, 5’6″ in height, payload 120 lbs of well-designed equipment” — beauty alone would not secure the title. Aspirants had to mount the sort of popularity contest that one associates with class office in junior high. This was not a marginalized pageant; it dramatized the impunity with which JPL men objectified women. William Pickering, the director of JPL from 1954 to 1976, himself crowned the winner. In 1959, after the formation of NASA, when JPL turned its attention from missiles to planetary probes, the title became the Queen of Outer Space.
As technology evolved, however, the Friden seraglio became obsolete, replaced by the room-size IBM mainframe computer. (As did the Queen of Outer Space, which vanished in 1970 with no explanation)…
Wanted: Women With Degrees in Mathematics…Women are being offered scientific and engineering jobs where formerly men were preferred. Now is the time to consider your job in science and engineering…You will find that the slogan there as elsewhere is WOMEN WANTED!