Mary Sherman Morgan: American scientist (1921 - 2004) | Biography, Facts, Information, Career, Wiki, Life
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Mary Sherman Morgan
American scientist

Mary Sherman Morgan

Mary Sherman Morgan
The basics

Quick Facts

Intro American scientist
Known for Invention of the liquid fuel Hydyne
A.K.A. Rocket Girl
Was Chemist Engineer Aerospace engineer
From United States of America
Field Engineering Science
Gender female
Birth 4 November 1921, Ray, North Dakota
Death 4 August 2004 (aged 82 years)
Star sign Scorpio
Mother: Dorothy Sherman
Father: Michael Sherman
Siblings: Amy MorganElaine MorganClarence MorganMichael MorganVernon Morgan
Spouse: George Richard Morgan
Children: George D. MorganStephen MorganMonica MorganKaren Morgan
Ray High School, North Dakota
Minot State University, North Dakota Chemistry
Catholic DeSales College, Toledo, Ohio Chemistry
The details


Mary Sherman Morgan (November 4, 1921 – August 4, 2004) was an American rocket fuel scientist credited with the invention of the liquid fuel Hydyne in 1957 that enabled the launch of the Jupiter-C rocket that boosted the United States' first satellite, Explorer 1.

Early life and education

Mary Sherman Morgan was born on November 4, 1921, on a small farm in Ray, North Dakota, to Michael and Dorothy Sherman. She had two sisters, Amy and Elaine, and three brothers, Clarence, Michael, and Vernon.

Morgan attended Ray High School in Ray, North Dakota, from where she graduated on 31 May 1940 as class valedictorian.

She was not done; she wanted to go to a college and study further and the only way to do that was to run away from home. In fact, she had been preparing her escape for months. She was secretly communicating with her chose college, North Dakota's Minot State University, using the address of the local Catholic parish. It was during confession one Saturday morning that she had asked the priest for permission to use the rectory as a mail drop. After careful planning, she ran away from home in the wee hours of June 1st –– the day after her high school graduation.

Morgan began studying chemistry at Minot State University. However, according to her biography "Rocket girl: the story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America's first female rocket scientist" written by her son George D. Morgan, Morgan transferred to Catholic DeSales College in Toledo, Ohio, after she was about to become an unwed mother. In Toledo, Ohio, she lived with her aunt Ida LaJoie Miller, her mother's sister. When her daughter was born, she was adopted by Ida's daughter, Ruth, who had been married over 8 years and apparently couldn't have children.


Morgan excelled in academia at the college; her skills in chemistry were noticed by her teachers, who passed her name along to a recruiter from Plum Brook Ordnance Works, one of the nation's leading manufacturers of TNT and other weaponry to the United States Army. The Second World War broke out around that time and as a result, there was a shortage of chemists and other scientists. One day, a Plum Brook recruiter named Paul Morsky came to the college campus looking for Morgan and offered her a job as a chemist at a factory in Sandusky, Ohio. She initially hesitated as she wanted to finish her education first before working full-time, but Morsky was able to convince her into accepting the offer.

The job turned out to be at the Plum Brook Ordnance Works munitions factory, and Morgan was 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.

After spending the war years designing explosives for the military, Morgan 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 900 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 California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, California. Together they had four children — George, Stephen, Monica, and Karen.

Space race era

During the development program for the Jupiter missile, Wernher von Braun's team used modified Redstone missiles, dubbed the Jupiter C, to accelerate the rocket to orbital velocities. 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.

Morgan worked in the group of Dr. Jacob Silverman at North American Aviation's Rocketdyne Division. 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, and Hydyne subsequently powered three Jupiter C nose cone test flights.

In 1957, the Russian 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 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.

After the Jupiter C and six Juno I launches, the U.S. switched to more powerful fuels.

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.

Death and tribute

A lifelong smoker, Morgan died of emphysema on August 4, 2004. In July 2013, BBC's online News Magazine released a short video tribute to Morgan, narrated by her son George Morgan.

Popular culture

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.

George Morgan admitted that he knew surprisingly little about his mother's life and work when she died, as she worked in an industry connected to defense and national security and was limited in what she could discuss. The younger Morgan had built and launched homemade rockets with friends in the Arizona desert and as he recalled, "If I'd known how much expertise in rocketry my mother had, we could have asked her for help and saved ourselves a great deal of trouble." Her penchant for keeping secrets was such that George Morgan did not even know she was ill with emphysema until the last few months of her life, nor was he aware of his half-sister until 2007.

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Reference sources
Rocket girl : the story of Mary Sherman Morgan, America's first female rocket scientist, by George D. Morgan, 2003
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