America’s First Female Rocket Scientist


The website Women You Should Know recently highlighted Mary Sherman Morgan, a female rocket scientist whose contributions to America’s golden age of space exploration have largely been forgotten:


In 1957, the race was on to see which world super power would be the first to place a satellite into orbit. As American rockets kept blowing up on the launch pad, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. The U.S. Army’s Redstone rocket could reach orbit, but only if a more powerful fuel could be developed.

When top engineers could not find a solution to the repeated failures, a search was conducted to find the country’s very best rocket propellant scientist. To everyone’s surprise, that person turned out to be a young woman from California… Her name was Mary Sherman Morgan.
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In the early 1950s her company, North American Aviation, was selected to solve the great fuel challenge. Recognizing her talent for chemistry, North American Aviation management turned the assignment over to young Mary, the only female engineer among 900 rocket scientists.


In that unique position, what she accomplished was historic… inventing the rocket fuel – hydyne – that successfully boosted America’s first satellite, Explorer I, into orbit in 1958. It’s safe to say that without Mary, the U.S. could have been knocked right out of the Space Race. 


If you want to learn more about Mary, her son has written a book about Mary’s life and work. Thanks to Women You Should Know for drawing our attention to this amazing pioneer!

Vanessa Wright