Mary Sherman Morgan
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.
Early life and education
The second youngest of six 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. She then enrolled at North Dakota's Minot State University as a chemistry major.
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.
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, whom she later gave up for adoption to her cousin Mary Hibbard and her husband, Irving. The child was renamed Ruth Esther.
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. 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. Out of nine hundred engineers, she was the only woman, and one of only a few without a college degree.
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.
Space race era
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. In this endeavor the United States effort was called Project Vanguard. 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, to prepare his Redstone/Jupiter C rocket for an orbital flight. When von Braun’s team members discovered that their rocket would not be powerful enough to reach orbit, they awarded a contract to North American Aviation's Rocketdyne Division to come up with a more powerful fuel.
Morgan worked in the group of Dr. Jacob Silverman at Rocketdyne.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 invention, Hydyne, a propellant that succeeded in launching America’s first satellite, Explorer I, into orbit on January 31, 1958. Despite its importance to the Explorer launch, the U.S. quickly switched to more powerful fuels and Hydyne was used only once.
Alternative fuel name
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. 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). This was a more powerful fuel than ethyl alcohol, but it was also more toxic. 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.
Mary Sherman Morgan died on August 4, 2004, as a result of complications related to emphysema.
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.
Rocket Girl: The Story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America's First Female Rocket Scientist by Ashley Stroupe and George D. Morgan