The subtitle of this book is “How Margaret Hamilton Saved The First Lunar Landing,” and it introduces readers to Margaret Hamilton, “who loved to solve problems” and “came up with ideas no one had ever thought of before.” Eventually she became a part of the American space program at NASA.
As the author informs us:
“She helped Apollo 8 orbit the moon ten times. She helped Apollo 9 connect two ships in space. She helped Apollo 10 get within nine miles of the moon’s surface.”
Most famously, she helped Apollo 11 land on the moon even after several computer alarms had been triggered, becoming a hero of the mission. In 2003, she won NASA’s Exceptional Space Act Award for her groundbreaking contributions to the U.S. space program. The Award recognized her achievements, stating “Apollo lives on today, continuing to impact the modern world in part through the many innovations created and championed by Ms. Hamilton.”
Margaret was born on August 17, 1936. She was always curious, as the author explains, and especially loved solving problems in math. When computers first came into use, she was delighted:
“Margaret could use this new invention to answer so many questions about the universe!”
And she did, programming computers to do things they had never done before. In 1960, Margaret took an interim position at MIT to develop software for predicting weather. She later observed that at that time, computer science and software engineering were not yet disciplines; instead, programmers learned on the job with hands-on experience. From 1961 to 1963, she worked on a project writing software for military use in anti-aircraft air defense. This work led to her being chosen as Director of the Software Engineering Division of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, which developed on-board flight software for the Apollo space program.
After her work with NASA, she went on to found her own companies for systems design and software development.
In his Author’s Note, Robbins credits Margaret’s father with always taking her questions seriously, and making her believe she could be anything she wanted. She became “fearless.” In fact, Robbins said, when Hamilton became a pioneer in programming computers, “the job had no name, so she made one up: software engineer. She was one of the only female computer scientists of the 1950’s and ‘60s.”
Hamilton has published over 130 papers, proceedings, and reports about the 60 projects and six major programs in which she has been involved.
On November 22, 2016, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by U.S. President Barack Obama for her work leading the development of on-board flight software for NASA’s Apollo Moon missions.
You may recognize the work of illustrator Lucy Knisley from her adult graphic novels such as Relish: My Life In The Kitchen.. She employs cartoon-style illustrations – a perfect choice to convey the excitement of Margaret’s discoveries, and a variety of texts to punctuate the narration.
At the back of the book, there is an Author’s Note, a bibliography, and a list of recommendations for additional reading.
Evaluation: Both Robbins and Knisley are to be credited with making what could have been a dry story into more of an inspiring and entertaining comic book tale of a real-life superhero.
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, 2017