Mary Sherman Morgan

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For other people named Mary Morgan, see Mary Morgan (disambiguation).
Mary Sherman Morgan
Mary Sherman Morgan.jpg
Mary Sherman Morgan, c. 1950s
Born Mary Sherman
(1921-11-04)November 4, 1921
Ray, North Dakota
Died August 4, 2004(2004-08-04)
Nationality American
Alma mater Minot State University
Spouse(s) George Richard Morgan
Engineering career
Employer(s) Plum Brook Ordnance Works;
North American Aviation
Significant projects Redstone rocket
Significant design Hydyne

Mary Sherman Morgan (November 4, 1921 – August 4, 2004) was a U.S. rocket fuel scientist credited with the invention of the liquid fuel Hydyne in 1957, which powered the Jupiter-C rocket that boosted the United States' first satellite, Explorer 1.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

The second youngest of 6 children, Mary Sherman was born to Michael and Dorothy Sherman on their farm in Ray, North Dakota. In 1939, she graduated as her high school’s valedictorian.[2] She then enrolled at North Dakota's Minot State University as a chemistry major.[1][3]

Career[edit]

During Morgan's college education the Second World War broke out. As a result of men going overseas, the United States soon developed a shortage of chemists and other scientists. A local employment recruiter heard that Sherman had some experience with chemistry, and offered her a job at a local factory in Cleveland. He would not tell her what product the factory made, or what her job would be—only that she would be required to obtain a 'top secret' security clearance. Short on money, she decided to take the job even though it would mean having to postpone her degree. The job turned out to be at the Plum Brook Ordnance Works munitions factory, charged with the responsibility of manufacturing explosives trinitrotoluene (TNT), dinitrotoluene (DNT), and pentolite. The site produced more than one billion pounds of ordnance throughout World War II.[1][4]

Mary Sherman became pregnant in 1943 out of wedlock. At that time she was living with an aunt and cousin in Huron, Ohio. In 1944, she gave birth to a daughter, Mary G. Sherman,[1][5] whom she later gave up for adoption to her cousin Mary Hibbard and her husband, Irving. The child was renamed Ruth Esther.[1][6]

After spending the war years designing explosives for the military, she applied for a job at North American Aviation, and was employed in their Rocketdyne Division, based in Canoga Park, California.[7] Soon after being hired, she was promoted to Theoretical Performance Specialist, a job that required her to mathematically calculate the expected performance of new rocket propellants.[7][8] Out of nine hundred engineers, she was the only woman, and one of only a few without a college degree.[1][9]

While working at North American Aviation, she met her future husband, George Richard Morgan, a Mechanical Engineering graduate from Caltech. Together they had four children—George, Stephen, Monica and Karen.[1][9]

Space race era[edit]

During the development program for the reentry vehicle of the Jupiter missile, also under development, Wernher von Braun's team used modified Redstone missiles, dubbed the Jupiter C, to accelerate test nose cones to the necessary speed. In order to improve the performance of the first stage, they awarded a contract to North American Aviation's Rocketdyne Division to come up with a more powerful fuel.[10]

Morgan worked in the group of Dr. Jacob Silverman at North American Aviation's Rocketdyne Division.[11] Due to her expertise and experience with new rocket propellants, Morgan was named the technical lead on the contract. Morgan's work resulted in a new propellant, Hydyne. The first Hydyne-powered Redstone R&D flight took place on 29 November 1956,[12] and Hydyne subsequently powered three Jupiter C nose cone test flights.[13]

In 1957, the Soviet Union and the United States had set a goal of placing satellites into Earth orbit as part of a worldwide scientific celebration known as the International Geophysical Year.[14] In this endeavor the United States effort was called Project Vanguard.[14] The Soviet Union successfully launched the Sputnik satellite on October 4, 1957, an event followed soon after by a very public and disastrous explosion of a Vanguard rocket. Political pressure forced U.S. politicians to allow a former German rocket scientist, Wernher von Braun,[15] to prepare his Jupiter C rocket for an orbital flight. In the renamed launcher (now called Juno I) the propellant succeeded in launching America’s first satellite, Explorer I, into orbit on January 31, 1958.[9]

After the Jupiter C and Juno I programs (there six launch attempts in the latter[16]), the U.S. switched to more powerful fuels.[17]

Alternative fuel name[edit]

As Hydyne-LOX (liquid oxygen) was the fuel combination used for the Redstone rocket, Morgan whimsically suggested naming her new fuel formulation Bagel, since the rocket's propellant combination would then be called Bagel and LOX.[7][9][18] Her suggested name for the new fuel was not accepted, and Hydyne was chosen instead by the U.S. Army. The standard Redstone was fueled with a 75% ethyl alcohol solution, but the Jupiter-C first stage had used Hydyne fuel, a blend of 60% unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) and 40% diethylenetriamine (DETA).[19] This was a more powerful fuel than ethyl alcohol, but it was also more toxic.[20] The fuel was used with the Rocketdyne Redstone rocket only once—to launch America's first satellite Explorer I, after which it was discontinued in favor of higher performing fuels.

Death and tribute[edit]

Mary Sherman Morgan died on August 4, 2004, as a result of complications related to emphysema. In July 2013 BBC's online News Magazine released a short video tribute to Morgan, narrated by her son George Morgan.[21]

Popular culture[edit]

Mary Sherman Morgan was the subject of a semi-biographical stage play written by her son, George Morgan. The play, Rocket Girl, was produced by Theater Arts at California Institute of Technology (TACIT), directed by Brian Brophy, and ran at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, California on November 17, 2008.[7][9]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g Morgan, George D.; with Ashley Phd Stroupe. Rocket Girl: The Story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America's First Female Rocket Scientist, Prometheus Books, 2013, ISBN 1616147393, ISBN 978-1616147396.
  2. ^ Alumni Records: 1936-1940, Ray High School, Nesson 2 School District, Williams County, ND
  3. ^ Alumni Records, Minot State University, Minot, Ward County, ND
  4. ^ US Dept of Defense, Formerly Used Defense Sites, Site Number: G05OH0018
  5. ^ April 1944 Birth Records, St Vincent's Hospital, Philadelphia, PA
  6. ^ Final Decree, June 8, 1946: Probate Court Records, Sandusky, Erie County, Ohio
  7. ^ a b c d Lerner, Preston, "Soundings: She Put The High In Hydyne". Air & Space Smithsonian Magazine, February/March 2009, Vol.23, No.6, pp.10, ISSN 0886-2257.
  8. ^ Draxler, Breanna. "Rocket Girl" (book review), Discover (magazine), July–August 2013, p. 25.
  9. ^ a b c d e Morgan, George. America's First Lady of Rocketry, Caltech News, California Institute of Technology, Vol.42, No.1.
  10. ^ Robert S. Kraemer & Vince Wheelock: “Rocketdyne: powering humans into space”. American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics. 2006, pp. 43–44.
  11. ^ Missiles and Rockets. American Aviation Publications. January 1958. Retrieved 7 June 2013. "Nicknamed Hydyne, the fuel increased thrust and missile range by 12 per cent over that of a conventional Redstone engine. Dr. Jacob Silverman, supervisor of Rocketdyne's propulsion research thermodynamics unit and a leader in the development of Hydyne, first started work on the new compound early in 1956. The problem faced by Silverman and the company's chemical engineers was that of developing a fuel that would increase performance and could be substituted for the alcohol usually burned in the Redstone engine." 
  12. ^ History of the Redstone Missile System, p. 60
  13. ^ History of the Redstone Missile System, p. 166
  14. ^ a b Dickson, Paul: “Sputnik, The Shock of the Century”. Walker & Company. 2001
  15. ^ Bob Ward: “Dr. Space: The Life of Wernher von Braun”. Naval Institute Press, 2005
  16. ^ History of the Redstone Missile System, p. 166
  17. ^ NASA. The Mercury-Redstone Project, p. 3-2, 4-42.
  18. ^ Morgan, George D. Rocket Girl: A play about the life of America's first female rocket scientist Mary Sherman Morgan, NevadaBelle.com website, November 2008.
  19. ^ The Mercury-Redstone Project, p. 2-2.
  20. ^ The Mercury-Redstone Project, p. 3-2, 4-42.
  21. ^ Taylor Hiegel, Bill McKenna. Remembering the US's first female rocket scientist, BBC New Magazine website, July 17, 2013.

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