Reflecting On Margaret Hamilton: 50 Years After Apollo 11

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the first Apollo moon landing, Google created a 1.4-square-mile portrait of NASA software developer Margaret Hamilton using more than 107,000 mirrors from the Ivanpah Solar Facility in the Mojave Desert, a solar thermal power plant with a gross capacity of 392 megawatts.

The fields of heliostat mirrors (173,500 in total) ordinarily focus sunlight on receivers located on the solar power towers, which subsequently generate steam to drive steam turbines. The facility was first connected to the electrical grid in September 2013 before formally opening in February 2014, during which it was the world’s largest solar thermal power station. Ivanpah was developed by BrightSource Energy and Bechtel, with Google contributing $168 million towards its $2.2 billion in costs. Google no longer invests in the facility, however, due to the decline of the price of photovoltaic systems.

The facility has historically taken steps to avoid disrupting the natural wildlife, which includes desert tortoises. The effect of mirror glare on airplane pilots, water concerns, and collisions with birds has also been addressed by the operators of the installation.

According to Google, the image was larger than Central Park and could be seen a mile above sea level. The mirrors are all attached to a rotating mount that maneuvers the mirrors in order to create lighter and darker shades to make up the image.

The Apollo 11 mission, manned by Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Michael Collins, was the first to bring humans to the moon in 1969. Hamilton‘s role in the team included programming the in-flight software for all of NASA’s Apollo missions. She had also worked on satellite tracking software for the Air Force through Lincoln Lab (started by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and later joined the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory. It was, however, her work on creating computer systems to predict and track weather systems for use in anti-aircraft air defenses that made her a candidate for a lead developer role at NASA.

36 thoughts on “Reflecting On Margaret Hamilton: 50 Years After Apollo 11

  1. Nice to see Ivanpah is good for something.
    One of its more amusing claims: It produces four times more electricity for the amount of natural gas it burns than a conventional gas turbine plant of similar capacity, for only fifteen times the cost (!).

      1. 15x capital cost ($24/watt), but with even the most optimistic projections of operating cost, it will never cross over before it dies of old age.

        It’s funny to extrapolate that cost down to house-size generators. A 10 kW generator would cost $240,000. That’s enough to buy an excellent conventional generator, a lifetime worth of fuel, and a modest house to go with it, or a Tesla to fuel up with it.

        1. Sure, in some places you could do that but then you will be struggling to get by for the rest of your life.

          In a neighborhood with a job market decent enough to warrant a house payment you could easily spend that whole amount on just the house.

    1. Only within the last week or so… the hottest day EVER in Europe (well, simce the eath cooled anyway). I guess there is no sense even trying to fix climate change, it’s already too late…

      Come-on guys, at least there are a few people out there trying to solve a problem that is going to hit more than just somebodys wallet.

      1. „Since the earth cooled“, eh? You are forgetting the medieval warm period, the Roman warm period in recent times and then basically a couple of million years that lead up to the Pleistocene. The problem with the concepts like “huge-solar-arrays-in-the-desert” are obvious: power is produced far away from where people live – if you moved it where people DO live, you would waste a lot of farmable land (which is WAY better in converting solar energy in useful stored energy). But there is a much bigger problem: if you move these installations away from the equator to where people actually live, you face things like, um, “winter” or mud season … and a very strange thing called “nights” – resulting in the need for conventional backup power plants (coal or nuclear). If you don’t have them, black-outs, power rationing and sky-rocketing electricity prices are the result. This is why the Australians kicked out their last prime minister as he, too, had put a trendy “let’s do something policy” before facts and feasibility. A smart pairing of energy sources could be a solution – like nuclear & solar H2 production, but leftist politicians (at least in my country) have already ruined that option for us…

          1. Google
            john cook 97% fallacy

            Who is John Cook? Well, not a scientist. His claim to fame prior to starting that “skeptical” science site was the science fiction parody webcomic called Sev Trek.

      2. at least there are a few people out there trying to solve a problem
        But the solar plant promoters & profiteers are not them.

        Our resources to address the problem are limited, and the cost of an object is a pretty reasonable surrogate for the total amount of energy required to build it. The $2.2B cost of this plant that can produce only 90 MW average represents an irresponsibly wasteful allocation of resources.

        There are *so many* things that effort could have gone to that would have more efficiently met the actual problem. Heck, even building a nuclear plant would produce 10x the amount of electrical power for the same energy input, and would be able to produce desalinated water too.

      1. Do the arithmetic.
        From the moon’s perspective, that array is a pinhole camera. Best you could do is project an image of the sun-size pixels at the moon. At a half degree wide, each pixel would be moon-sized.

  2. Why are we suddenly and everywhere remembering ‘ad-nauseam’ anything and everything about Apolo, the Moon and NASA?

    It is here @hackaday, IEEE mags, media, newspapers, everywhere!

    50 years or 49 or 51 are about the same.

    Is it that there is NOTHING else to be proud of???

    No further magnificent achievements???

    1. Jealous much?

      The Apollo manned moon exploration missions are the greatest technical achievement of mankind. What has anyone else done that even comes close?

      We haven’t been back in 50 years. Given the crises to come in the next 6 years, I doubt seriously we will return in the lifetime of anyone alive today.

        1. Because people seem to like anniversaries that fall on multiples of 10 years. In fact there have been low-key celebrations most years for Apollo, with surviving astronauts meeting, tours of NASA facilities, stamp issues, and such. 50 is just a big one, and not many of the participants are left. They probably won’t be any by the 60th.

          And just a bit of advice, the way you phrased your questions and the repetition came across as aggressive and combative. That may not have been your intention, but that’s what I got.

    2. “Is it that there is NOTHING else to be proud of???
      No further magnificent achievements???”

      Short answer..

      no not really.

      Long answer..

      There is the internet but that in large part grew out of technology that was accelerated by the moon race. I doubt we would have anything like it now without that. Then there is accessible 3d printing but that would have never existed without the internet.

      So no, human achievement is just about dead. We have some pretty good hobbyists remaining that will help bring some of the tech that previously only industry had to the masses but that’s just about it. For the most part the great discoveries that can be made by a lone hobbyist have been made.

      Big projects like what Apollo was will not happen anymore because that would require massive voter support. We can’t have that in the first world because for the most part our population is just a bunch of deuchbags more interested in reality tv and getting fat on a couch than funding any sort of progress. If they actually manage to unite long enough to push the politicians into funding something other than bombing countries with oil reserves it will be to throw it down some hole that makes them feel warm and fuzzy but doesn’t actually accomplish anything long therm. Outside the first world of course.. people have more immediate needs to consider.

        1. It wasn’t just asking a question. It was that you seemed indignant in the way you asked the question and then rephrased it multiple times, indicating that you’re sick of it. Seems obviously negative to me when you write in caps and use phrases like “ad nauseum.”

          1. It is a question and still eagerly waiting for an answer.
            Why now?

            I guess you don’t know nor want to know “Why now?” hence transforming the question into negatively questioning the question.

            WHY NOW?

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