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Astro Turf: The Private Life of Rocket Science Original Edition

3.9 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0802714275
ISBN-10: 0802714277
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The success of the 1997 Mars Pathfinder mission—and the fact that its dynamic director, Donna Shirley, was a woman—reminded many of how far both space exploration and NASA's male-dominated culture had come. Lord (Forever Barbie) ought to know. Her dad, a rocket scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California during the '60s, had a personality as distant as the stars, and his anachronistic views about women left Lord "driven by terror" to flee to college. Upon her return to JPL 30 years later to learn what made engineers, and her dad, tick, Lord confirmed that he'd simply "embraced the values of his profession: work over family, masculine over feminine, repression over emotion." WWII and McCarthyism had helped create JPL's cowboy culture; for years, the few women who worked there were encouraged to compete for the title of Miss Guided Missile, a beauty and popularity contest. Homosexuals, meanwhile, were barred from employment, even while German engineers who'd committed Nazi war crimes were welcomed with open arms. It wasn't until Donna Shirley arrived in the 1970s that the center's top-down, male-oriented management approach gradually shifted to a "partnership" model. This is an often fascinating work, and cultural critic Lord's sharp turns from family affairs to JPL history result in wonderful discoveries for readers.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Bookmarks Magazine

Cultural historian Lord (Forever Barbie, 1994) examines her childhood relationship with her remote father as a way of understanding JPL’s ethos, its boom-and-bust cycle, and the political changes that took place between the Cold War and present. Rather than discuss the science or engineering of NASA, Lord focuses on JPL’s brilliant if flawed characters, from Frank Malina, the ousted cofounder of JPL, to the lionized former Nazi criminal Wernher von Braun. A few minor errors, some generalities, and a sense that Lord and her father’s true personalities lay just outside the reader’s immediate grasp mar the book’s fascinating subject and easy writing. Nonetheless, Astro Turf is at times a captivating look at human foibles, family forgiveness, wins, and losses.

Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 259 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Books; Original edition (January 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802714277
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802714275
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1 x 7.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,566,777 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Roger D. Launius VINE VOICE on April 6, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In many respects this is a remarkable book. M.G. Lord seeks to unpack the history of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a contract facility of NASA, from its origins in the 1930s as a rocket development installation under contract to the U.S. Army to its current status as planetary science center par excellence. In attempting this analysis Lord presents a scintillating narrative of JPL's evolution that is part memoir/part history and always challenging and thoughtful. She uses the experience of her father, who worked as an engineer on the Mars Mariner 69 mission, as an entree point into the engineering culture of JPL. From there she delves deeply into the origins and evolution of the center from its creation by Frank Malina and his self-styled "suicide squad" who fired rocket engines in the Arroyo Secco near the present-day Rose Bowl during the latter 1930s. Using the tools of post-modern analysis and deconstruction, but without reliance on the jargon that makes so much of that work inaccessible, Lord successfully furthers understanding of two major themes in the history of spaceflight that have been largely misunderstood to the present. This first is the place of JPL in the history of rocketry and why it is less well-known than the accomplishments of other actors, especially Wernher von Braun and his German rocket team, in the public consciousness. Second, Lord explores the gendered aspects of rocketry and spaceflight and observes the very gradual entrance of women into the profession.

The first theme that Lord illuminates is the systematic and selective writing of the history of spaceflight.
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Format: Hardcover
"Never forget, Son, that your father sold office supplies to the company that made the box that carried the rocks back from the moon."

The New Yorker cartoon quoted in "Astro Turf" so aptly describes how it felt to have a father working in the Southern California-based space program in the Mercury-through-Apollo era. Our dads, whatever it was that they did at North American Aviation or Rockwell or Hughes or wherever, was probably akin to having a dad (or a mom) working behind the scenes in Hollywood. They were not stars or astronauts, but they were working on something famous. And it was much more fun having your dad working on a moon mission than on missiles. At least they could talk to you about the moon.

M.G. Lord's book is the first I've read dealing with the "mid-century" experience of the Space Age kid and our sometimes emotionally challenged, distant engineer dads. Her personal search for what her dad was all about, where did he go and what was he doing when he disappeared into consulting at JPL, is a very touching piece of detective work.

Her observations about JPL and rocket science history and culture are keen and funny. She presents an excellent history of the McCarthy era's impact on some of the luminaries of early space exploration. In particular, she delves into the experiences of women engineers and scientists then and now; these are both painful and heartening stories.

This is a beautifully personal view of the space engineering world, and the men and women who attempt, and sometimes succeed, at accomplishing great missions of exploration.
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Format: Hardcover
For most people Rocket Science is a concept, a far removed study for the super intelligent, but for the daughter of a rocket scientist, it is both villian and reality. MG Lord effectively hides her rocket science in an intricate and complex relationship between a distant father, who always chooses work over family, and his daughter. Clearly, Lord has a solid grasp on rocket science; the effortlessness with which she includes an impossible equation in an ordinary sentence brings rocket science into every day life. Above all else, this is the memoir of a daughter whose father was first and foremost a scientist and her struggle between pride and neglect. You read this book how you want to, scientists reading the science, daughters reading the heart. I can think of plenty of subjects that would lose a lot of their sting if teacher's took a page out of this book and grounded complicated technique and theory in more basic human formulas.
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Format: Hardcover
I thoroughly enjoyed reading MG Lord's Astro Turf, but I left it rather puzzled as to what she was trying to accomplish. The book is not exactly a history of JPL, although in some spots it strives to be just that. I suppose one might describe it as a "cultural history of JPL," but even that wouldn't fit, as her focus goes well beyond JPL. Lord spends time looking at project Paperclip and the influence that Nazis had on rocketry. This is very interesting and well written, but it's not clear why we spend so much time on this. To some extent it seems only to explain the sad life of Molina, one of JPL's founders who was drummed out of the U.S by McCarthyism. But why do we spend so much time discussing the biography of Molina, when his latter life had so little effect on the cultural history of JPL?

To some extent it seems to be a history of Lord's own attempts to understand her father's work. I'm really puzzled why she still believes in the last chapter that her father's work on Mariner 69 was somehow "slight" or unimportant. As an engineer who has worked on scientific spacecraft for NASA, I can say with confidence that to have a contractor with the title of "cognizant engineer for mechanical devices" indicates that this contractor, her father, was very well respected and had a very important position. Lord does not seem to appreciate how incredibly difficult it is to get any mechanical apparatus to operate reliably in the cold vacuum of space. Her petulant insistance that her father's role was less important than he made it out to be indicates that she really hasn't understood the culture of JPL yet.

In several sections Lord seems to be attempting to write a history of gender descrimination within engineering. The "Men and Missiles" pamphlet is hilarious, and Ms.
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