05 7 / 2013
Mary Sherman Morgan (1921 – 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.
During Morgan’s college education, World War II 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.
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, 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.
During the Space Race era, Morgan was named the technical lead for developing new rocket propellants. 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
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