As a topic of family dynamics, peer pressure usually refers to teen transgressions: undesirable behavior that has been fostered by hanging...

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As a topic of family dynamics, peer pressure usually refers to teen transgressions: undesirable behavior that has been fostered by hanging with the wrong crowd. But adults have peer pressure, too: the conformity foisted on them by their careers.

And even prestigious professions can have their ways of being a wrong crowd. In “Astro Turf: The Private Life of Rocket Science” (Walker & Co., 259 pp., $24), M.G. Lord explores how rocket science shaped its practitioners in the 1950s and ’60s — and sometimes turned the best minds of their generation into Nazi apologists, homophobes and other rather limited humans.

This compact and beautifully designed memoir explores how a father’s conventionality was visited on his daughter. Charles Lord was a loyal “foot soldier … in the battle for what cold-war strategists called the ‘high frontier’ ” of aerospace. M.G. (for Mary Grace) Lord is the daughter who adored him until she began to realize that he didn’t have much use for women, not even the young one he was rearing after his wife died of breast cancer. He retreated into his meticulous work at the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, and his daughter felt abandoned.

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Author appearance


M.G. Lord will read from “Astro Turf: The Private Life of Rocket Science,” 7 p.m. tonight, University Book Store, 4326 University Way N.E., Seattle; free (206-634-3400 or www.ubookstore.com).

The book resulting from such circumstances might have been a whine, except that Lord realized that the ethos of rocket science was a story larger than her diary. By interviewing people about the repressive culture of the JPL; examining textbooks, films and science fiction from the ’50s; and reporting on the paranoid politics that governed the era’s science, she learned that her father “had come by his misogyny honestly.” The realization frees her up to become a fan of today’s space explorers.

Seattle readers will appreciate the book’s portrait of Donna Shirley, the former manager of the Mars Exploration Program who now directs the Science Fiction Museum. Although JPL’s ceiling seemed to be made of unbreakable glass, Shirley chipped at it for 32 years — and eventually saw the day when she could teach management seminars that included meditation and bonding with one’s inner child.

Carol Doup Muller is an editor in San Jose.