The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
This alternate history of the space race is an excellent readalike for Hidden Figures, Code Girls, and The Mercury 13. In 1952 a meteorite hits Chesapeake Bay while scientist Elma York is on vacation in the Poconos with her husband Nathaniel, an engineer. They have a narrow escape in Elma’s Cessna plane, and end up in Kansas City working for the International Aerospace Coalition. Elma was a WASP (pilot) in World War II, and works as a computer on calculations of the effects of the meteorite and later on rocket trajectories. She has kept her phobia of public speaking secret, but an adversary from the war years may expose it and derail her hopes of becoming a lady astronaut. The Yorks are Jewish, and their struggle to stay observant is noted, but prejudice against women and African-Americans in science is a major theme. The author, most known for her Regency-era fantasy novels, really did her research on Apollo era science, technology, and daily life, and this makes for an immersive, compelling reading experience. I would have liked less about Elma’s anxiety disorder and more about how others survived the meteorite strike but still found this to be quite the page-turner. The second part of the Lady Astronauts’ story is The Fated Sky, which I hope to read while I’m rereading Rocket Men by Robert Kurson, for a book discussion on February 19.