Rocket Girl – the story of Mary Sherman Morgan (a reprise)

The following post was written about eight years ago. It bears repeating to honor our first female rocket scientist.

Per the description of the biography called  “Rocket Girl” by George D. Morgan about his mother on the Amazon website: “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 – a legacy buried deep under a lifetime of secrets political, technological, and personal. Blending a fascinating personal history with dramatic historical events taking place on the world stage, this compelling narrative brings long-overdue attention to a modest but brilliant woman whose work proved essential for America’s early space program. In 1938, a young German rocket enthusiast named Wernher von Braun had dreams of building a rocket that could fly him to the moon.

On the opposite side of the world, a young farm girl named Mary Sherman was attending high school in Ray, North Dakota. 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. In a vivid narrative, Morgan relates how World War II and the Cold War space race with the Russians changed the fates of both von Braun and his mother. 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 Mary 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.” You can see more about the book with the following link:

http://www.amazon.com/Rocket-Girl-Sherman-Americas-Scientist/dp/1616147393

I learned of Mary Sherman Morgan the other day while watching PBS Newshour. They interviewed her son George about his book about his mother, the rocket scientist. Many things strike me about this story. First, her talent could not be restrained by the social limitations of the day. She succeeded in spite of being the “only woman in the room” on almost every occasion. To do what she did with the constant push back, both verbally and non-verbally, speaks volumes of both her ability and character. Whether due to race, ethnicity or gender, to always be the lone different one in a group of people, takes some chutzpah to succeed that many don’t have.

Second, she was an unassuming woman. Her family and friends had little, if any, understanding of the huge role she played in the US space program. She did not wish to be in the limelight and because of her gender, no one pushed her into it. So, others took her portion of the credit for the glory and she was OK by that. Her son wrote this book to tell the real story. He had to do a lot of digging. His mom made a difference and others need to know about it what she did.

I am a father of three, with my daughter the youngest at age 16. I want every opportunity for her and do not want anyone to limit her because of her gender. That is grossly unfair to her and society. Unfortunately, women do not get these opportunities in many places around the globe. I have said often, on top of the gross unfairness, it is economically suicidal for a country to limit the opportunities of at least half of its intellectual capital. What if they have a Mary Sherman Morgan in their midst, but deny her educational opportunity? They would never realize the potential of her ability.

This is why it so important for all of us to push and keep pushing for equal opportunity. It is imperative that all people be treated with dignity and be in a safe and secure environment. I personally do not care what religion you follow, but if your group’s interpretation of your scripture puts down women and treats them like possessions, then either you need to get a better interpretation or maybe find a new religion. Social justice is a moral imperative. We must treat all with respect and just because you’re a man, does not mean you should get more than your fair share.

To flourish, we need more Mary Sherman Morgans in our world. If we have them and let them be successful, our world will be a better place. You go, Rocket Girl!

Being candid on obvious concerns

Last night, “60 Minutes” did a piece on the continuing forest fires in Australia. The risk has heightened due to climate change on this very hot and dry continent.

One of those whose home has been destroyed is incredulous by the lack of planning and execution by the prime minister and government. She said our country is on fire and the risk will continue and they cannot focus on that? Another person joined others and refused to shake the prime minister’s hand saying “you’re an idiot, mate.”

Not to be outdone, former conservative PM Malcolm Turnbull noted climate change is making the Australian forest fires worse. He referred to climate change naysayers in his own party as “idiotic.”

Their candor is needed. In the US, Republican lawmakers are now pushing the planting of a million trees. This is a good start, especially after twenty years of varying degrees of climate change denial, but addresses only one side of the issue. We need to also stop putting so much carbon and methane into the atmosphere as well as taking carbon out of the air with more trees (and other measures).

I am not advocating the use of derogatory terms like idiot or idiotic, but in the case of the current Australian PM, Scott Morrison, many would not shake his hand after he took a planned vacation to Hawaii while the fires were raging back home. That was not the wisest of moves.

Dark Waters is a must see

On Friday, I went to see the movie “Dark Waters” about a long uphill battle some West Virginia families had against Dupont. Mark Ruffalo stars and co-produces the film, playing the attorney, Rob Bilott, who fought so long and hard as a favor to his grandmother. The movie also stars Anne Hathaway as his wife, Tim Robbins as his managing partner and Bill Pullman and is directed by Todd Haynes. Some of the families impacted by Dupont and involved in the court cases show up in cameos throughout the movie.

The movie is a must see. Your emotions will flow with Bilott’s throughout the movie. You will be inspired by his courage and tenacity and that of the first client a farmer named Wilbur Tennant, ably played by Bill Camp. You will also be saddened by how a company could cover-up for decades they were harming their employees, community and the buying public. Yes, we too, are also impacted by this story. Not to spoil the plot any further, but the word “Teflon” plays a key role.

Like “Erin Brockovich” before it, these movies should not have to be made. Companies need to do the right thing. Yet, when government agencies ask the companies and industry to police themselves, short cuts are made and information is hidden. Think Boeing for a recent example. Dupont is not very happy this movie was made. They should not be as it paints them many times over in a very poor light. They had many opportunities to do the right thing, but did not until their hand was forced. Even then, it had to be reinforced.

I will stop short here. Please go see it. Make sure the kids see it, as well. This is why our voices matter.

These Alaskans moved their village due to climate change

Climate change is no longer a futuristic concern. People, governments and businesses are responding to issues today whether it is sunny day flooding in coastal cities, increased magnitude and frequency of forest fires or stalled weather patterns causing more flooding or droughts.

Venice is an important face of rising sea levels, but Miami is the most at risk major city in the world say climate scientists. Yet, a town in Alaska has been forced to plan and move their town inland today.

An NPR story by Greg Kim earlier this month was entitled, “Residents Of An Eroded Alaskan Village Are Pioneering A New One, In Phases.”

“It’s finally moving day in Newtok, Alaska, the village where erosion has already claimed several homes and the river is banging on more doors. Newtok is sending a third of its residents across the Ninglick River this year, to its replacement village, Mertarvik. Decades of planning have built up to this moment.”

An earlier story from September noted, “In mid-October, Newtok will move one-third of its roughly 350 residents to a new village currently under construction on higher ground 9 miles away. The move will mark a sober milestone: Newtok residents will be the first Americans to be relocated because of the effects of climate change.”

Two things stand out. The Newtok citizens have been planning this move for over 25 years. While that may surprise some folks, we have known about climate change and rising sea levels for some time. Exxon Mobil is in court for misepresenting the impact of climate change to shareholders, but much of the prosecutor’s data comes from suppressed data from Exxon Mobil scientists. These scientists used to speak to groups about climate change concerns until management told them to stop. Shell Oil even produced an educational video on climate change concerns in the 1990s.

While these firms have moved to a naysaying strategy fueled by a Public Relations firm, they know the hard truths. And, if they forget, their shareholders voted that management tell them.

Newtok will not be the last US town or city which may need to move. Please remember the term sunny day flooding, as it represents days when sea water leave standing water in the streets of these cities.

You don’t have to be an expert to make a difference

“You don’t have to be an expert to make a difference.” Gerald Durrell

Who is Gerald Durrell? If you watched the BBC show “The Durrells in Corfu,” you would know Jerry was the young boy who loved all animals, birds, reptiles and insects. This true story was based on this progressive zookeeper’s book “My family and other animals,” which was a best seller in the UK in the 1950s.

The context for the quote was his warning that humans were destroying the forests to harvest the wood and farm the land. We were killing off the homes to many animals. This was prescient and could reemphasized today.

Yet, the quote applies to so much more. We do not have to be expert on climate change to make a difference. We do not have to be expert on the long lifespan of plastic to use fewer plastic contsiners. We do not need to be an expert to know we need to use our water resources wisely.

And, to Durrell’s point, we do need to be an expert to preserve and replenish forests. Trees, mangroves, etc. are also carbon eaters, so it is not just the animals we are protecting. Remember the title of the best seller above.

The Good and Bad

Several stories crossed my screen, so I decided to pair good and bad news items on related topics.

Good: Ford and Volkswagen are co-investing in developing electric vehicles sharing development costs.

Bad: In spite of the significant decline in bee populations, the Trump administration has approved a bee-harmlng pesticide.

Good: The American economy is now into its 121st consecutive month of growth with nine straight years of 2 million plus jobs created.

Bad: The 2019 economy has softened some from 2018 due to trade/ tariff concerns, slowing global markets, waning impact of the 2017 tax law, growing US debt, and increased uncertainty which impedes investment and it should slow even more as predicted by economists.

Good: The interest in space travel and exploration involves an increasing number of countries – Japan and China have gone to the moon, eg. That spawns more interest in science which is terrific.

Bad: With the heavy cost of space travel, why don’t countries share the burden as Ford and Volkswagen are doing above? There is a lot of dupication of effort requiring money that could be invested here on earth to address water, food and climate issues.

Good: In spite of the US announcing a withdrawal from the Paris Climate Change Accord, other countries, states, cities, investment groups, companies and innovators continue to execute ideas that are addressing the issue.

Bad: The US federal governmenf needs to do more, not less to abet these efforts. Yet, another concern is getting little notoriety – the global water crisis, which is made even worse by climate change. Another city in India of 5 million people is in dire straights as its reservoir has almost dried up.

We should celebrate the good, but address the bad. We seem to be ignoring too many signals. It is hard to move forward, if we only look in the rearview. mirror. Food, water, climate, debt are signaling needs that must be addressed.

 

 

 

Rachel Carson, a silent, but forceful hero

It is hard to go against the grain. It is especially hard when you are a 5’4″ woman in a man’s scientific world that boldly said we can tame nature. Yet, when Rachel Carson wrote her provocative book “Silent Spring” in 1962, she rocked the world of the chemical industry. PBS’ “American Experience” has an excellent episode on Carson.

While her book was fiercely discredited by various “throw something against the wall” attacks by the chemical industry, it helped define how we need to proceed with more precaution. It laid bare the hubris of those who felt they could control nature.

It also started a grassroots environmental movement. Within ten years, the toxic chemical DDT would be banned and the Environmental Protection Agency would be created. Her testimony to Congress abetted these efforts. The Cuyahoga river in Cleveland catching fire also was a clarion call. Yet, she would not live to see them. She had cancer when she was being interviewed and testifying to Congress dying in 1964.

“Silent Spring” was her fourth best seller. The first was her “The Sea Around Us” published ten years earlier. Her first topic called upon her marine biology degree and work at the National Wildlife and Fisheries Department. Her first published book in 1941 called “Under the Sea Wind” was re-released after the second one’s success and sold well. Her “The Edge of the Sea” published in 1955 also was a best seller.

Her voice came at a time when “more chemicals” was the answer to any question. She was troubled that our arrogance was getting ahead of our wisdom. Her voice gained footing when it became apparent some fishermen had radiation poisoning from drifted winds from a hydrogen bomb test. But, she had been concerned about the unbridled use of pestiides for years.

A few chapters of “Silent Spring” were printed in The New Yorker and caused such an uproar that a Science Commission was set-up even before the book was released. President Kennedy made reference to Carson in a Q/A with reporters. She understood the use of pesticides is necessary – her main thrust is we need more testing before they are used. The chemical industry went after her and said she was undermining progress. She was called a communist and her data was more anecdotal. And, the fact she was a woman unnerved industry scientists, who felt she was infringing on their turf.

The book was a runaway best seller. It was highlighted in 70 newspapers. When she answered her critics, only then did they realize the power of her calm and informed voice. They were unable to silence her, though they gamely tried to stop a CBS Special Report featuring an interview with Carson. While two sponsors were pressured to drop out, CBS held their ground. For every question answered, there were 100 more raised.

The CBS Special Report was seen by as many as 15 million people. Carson was quite believable.  It was so impactful, a Congressional Committee was set-up the next day. A few months later, the earlier established Kennedy commission verified her findings as vindication.

As she told Congress we must measure the hidden costs against the potential gains. Shouldn’t we do that with every issue? And, for that she was vilified. However, her most telling testimony is our children have been born into this chemical age and we don’t know the full impact on their lives. As one historian noted in the “American Experience” documentary, she caused a “paradigm shift.” Thank you Ms. Carson.

Citing climate differences, Shell walks away from U.S. refining lobby

Last month. Reuters wrote an article entitled “Citing climate differences, Shell walks away from US refining lobby.” Here are the lead paragraphs.

“Royal Dutch Shell Plc on Tuesday became the first major oil and gas company to announce plans to leave a leading U.S. refining lobby due to disagreement on climate policies.

The review is part of Shell’s drive to increase transparency and show investors it is in line with the 2015 Paris climate agreement’s goals to limit global warming by reducing carbon emissions to a net zero by the end of the century.

It is also the latest sign of how investor pressure on oil companies, particularly in Europe, is leading to changes in their behavior around climate. Last year, Shell caved in to investor pressure over climate change, setting out plans to introduce industry-leading carbon emissions targets linked to executive pay.”

Shell is not the first oil company to cave to investor pressure. Exxon Mobil and Occidental Petroleum (along with utility PP&L) have to inform shareholders of their progress to addressing climate change after shareholder votes required them to do so. Exxon also has two lawsuits it is dealing with accusing them of misleading investors on the financial impact of climate change.

Climate change is real and is impacting us now. The greater number of sunny days coastal flooding, increased number of droughts, increased and more severe forest fires and the added flooding due to slow moving storns are traceable to the impact of climate change, so says climate scientists. I encourage you to ask politicians what they propose to do about this existential threat to our future. If they do not respond or fail to offer any tangible ideas, do not vote for them. We must move forward as we have squandered much of our window to act.

 

The time has come

It is reported the ice caps are melting at a faster rate than predicted. Coastal cities have seen increasing days of sunny day flooding. Extreme flooding is occurring as larger weather systems are stalling. And, drought areas are seeing more severe drought and forest fires are larger and more frequent.

The time has come to move forward in a concerted manner to address climate change. Efforts to waylay climate change actions must be highlighted and remedied. This should not be a political issue, but the fossil fuel industry has its foot on too many politicians’ throats.

That must change. I believe people who see the problems occurring now must act. Ask every politician what they plan to do about climate change. If the person gives a trite, dismissive answer, say that is not an acceptable answer.  The problem exists and we need to do something about it.

Even an older GOP Senator from Iowa called the President on the carpet for his “idiotic” comment about wind energy. When the President said wind mills cause cancer, Senator Chuck Grassley said that was “idiotic” and added that he was the “father of wind energy tax credits.” It should be noted Iowa gets 1/3 of its electricity from wind energy. That is forward thinking, but is not new. Oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens said wind energy was the future about eight years ago, once we bought time with natural gas. We have.

The time has come. Do not worry about being passionate as we need more fervent action.

Why are you ignoring climate change?

My home state of Florida is surrounded on three sides by sea water. And, Miami has been noted as the most at risk large city in the world to rising sea levels, with two climate scientists pessimistically saying Miami cannot be saved from its demise.

Yet, its two Senators are climate change deniers. The newest Senator, Rick Scott forbade his staff while Governor from using the terms climate change or global warming in print or speeches. Why the Voldemort approach to climate change is a good question?

Recently, the senior Senator Marco Rubio, noted his disapproval with the President’s emergency declaration. His argument is what would prevent President Kamala Harris from declaring an emergency to fight climate change? I agree with his disapproval, but not his example. There is no emergency at the border, so says Trump’s own administration. But, his own administration has written a report speaking of climate change as a significant problem. In fact, the Department of Defense says climate change is a threat to national security.

On “60 Minutes” this Sunday they reported on the progress of the climate change lawsuit against federal inaction by twenty kids. The attorney notes that their best data comes from the US government who has known for decades about fossil fuel worsening climate change. It should be noted the lawsuits against Exxon Mobil by their shareholders and three states uses a lot of Exxon’s own reports.

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is being vilified by Conservatives for  her Green New Deal. She has become their new pinata replacing Hillary and Nancy. While there a few bridge-too-far parts to the plan, it is something to discuss and build from. Let me ask who is crazier, someone who recgonizes the greatest threat to our planet along with the limited time to address it, or someone who is too scared to say Voldemort’s name?

As an Independent voter who left the GOP twelve years ago primarily due to its Voldemort stance on climate change, i applaud that someone is making a stand. People must ask all politicians about their position on climate change. If it is like that of the two Florida Senators, people need to avoid voting for them. This is that important.