“Rocket Girl”: From Space Shuttle Engineer to Space Historian


Linda (Getch) Dawson ’71 grew up at the height of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. She recalled driving to the observatory with her family and hearing the beeping of the Soviet satellite Sputnik flying overhead. “It’s interesting how your road turns, but I always return to my original love: aerospace,” she said. Dawson’s path took her from MIT to NASA, and then became a second career as a teacher and writer. Colleagues and reporters earned her the nickname “Rocket Girl.”

University of Washington at Tacoma

Dawson said that her “most exciting job ever” in the aerospace field was as an aerodynamic flight controller at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. It was in the late 1970s, and she was in the navigation and guidance mission control group to ensure that the space shuttle safely re-entered the atmosphere. She “performed endless simulations with astronauts and pilots” to determine how much fuel was needed for the first flight, so as to resolve the most serious failures. During launch and reentry, she was on duty in mission control, running more simulations to define and redefine the flight rules of the space shuttle as conditions changed. “When you fly at supersonic and hypersonic speeds, everything happens so fast that you can’t read a book to understand what you should do if something goes wrong,” she said. She left NASA long before the Challenger and Columbia disasters showed how dangerous manned spaceflight is, but a few years later she will share her views on these tragedies in her first book.

After serving at NASA and Boeing Aerospace, Dawson worked as a senior lecturer at the University of Washington, Tacoma for more than 20 years, where she designed courses for women in science and the history and science of space exploration.But she said, “I can’t find a reasonable [space] This book satisfies what I think should be covered in a concise way-either too technical or a children’s book. “So Dawson decided to write it himself. The politics and dangers of space exploration (Springer, 2017, there is a second edition this year) and Space war (Springer, 2018) tells the history of the space program and delves into the complex modern politics of space exploration, as different companies and countries are competing for access and resources.

After retiring, Dawson continued to write and lecture at the Flight Museum in Seattle, where she was a long-term volunteer. “In the museum, a new generation of young people still want to take rocket courses and learn about space,” she said. “It’s exciting to see this.”



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