Monday, July 31, 2017

Margaret and the Moon by Dean Robbins

Margaret And The Moon tells the story of Margaret Hamilton, computer scientist and the first software engineer. Margaret earned a B.A. in mathematics with a minor in philosophy from Earlham College in Richmond, Indiana in 1958. During her time at Earlham she met James Cox Hamilton and they married after she received her B.A. She postponed work on a PH.D when she was offered the opportunity to work on the Apollo missions. At this time there were no such disciplines as computer science and software engineering, the latter a term Margaret coined while working on the Apollo program. She was responsible for the on board flight software for the Apollo and Skylab missions.

Before working on Apollo Margaret worked at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) developing software to aid in predicting weather and she also worked on the SAGE Project at Lincoln Lab where she first developed software for predicting weather systems and track their movements. This latter ability was refined for use in tracking hostile aircraft, as the Cold War was in progress. Margaret joined Charles Stark Draper Laboratory at MIT which was involved in the Apollo program, responsible for developing software for the Apollo command module and the lunar lander.

Margaret And The Moon tells the story of how Margaret's curiosity about the world around her and her love of math led her to her career in mathematics and ultimately into coding. And that's a good thing because unknown to those of us who were watching the first lunar landing in July of 1969, Margaret was the person who saved the mission.When astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin were attempting to land the lunar module Eagle on the surface of the moon, the on board computers sent out an alarm. The alarms indicated the computers were overloaded with too many tasks and the landing would be aborted. But the code that Margaret Hamilton had written had foreseen this very thing and it ordered the computer to ignore those tasks and give priority to the lunar landing tasks.

Robbins picture book takes young readers through the story in a simply way and then at the back provides an Author's Note about Margaret Hamilton as well as a Bibliography and offers Additional Reading resources. Lucy Knisley's illustrations were done using ink and paper and coloured in Adobe Photoshop.
The wonderful photographs of Margaret throughout her life can be found
on the inside of the back cover of the book. A better option would have been to include these on the pages at the end.

For more background information on Margaret Hamilton, read Wired Magazine's great article, "Her Code Got Humans On The Moon -- And Invented Software Itself".

Book Details:

Margaret And The Moon by Dean Robbins, illustrated by Lucy Knisley
New York: Alfred A. Knopf 2017

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