Richard Maurer—The Woman in the Moon: How Margaret Hamilton Helped Fly the First Astronauts to the Moon

Woman in the Moon

Woman in the Moon

THE WOMAN IN THE MOON:
HOW MARGARET HAMILTON
HELPED FLY THE FIRST ASTRONAUTS TO THE MOON

Richard Maurer
Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan/March 14, 2023/$19.99
ISBN: 978-1-62672-856-1

Maurer reports:

My editor at Roaring Brook Press pitched me the idea of writing a biography of Margaret Hamilton, programming genius behind the Apollo Guidance Computer. I had fallen in love with the AGC through David Mindell’s book Digital Apollo, so I immediately said yes, even though I knew little about Margaret. Since my agent and I had parted ways, I reviewed the contract on my own, tweaked it a bit, and once it was accepted, started work.

At first, I worried that Margaret would be cool to the idea. She eventually returned my phone calls, however. Although we have never met in person, we have talked for more than 30 hours about every aspect of her life and contributions to Apollo, where she eventually rose to be head of all onboard flight software. I think we hit it off because we both grew up in small towns in the middle of nowhere and are near contemporaries.

Richard Maurer

Richard Maurer

In telling Margaret’s story, I tried to bring the zeitgeist of the 1950s and ’60s to life, showing how her upbringing in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula influenced her career and later her work on the Moon missions. She ran into the usual sexist hurdles of the era, which she compares to the ethos shown on the TV series Mad Men, but she often flouted these in her forthright way.

The more technical parts of the story required me to invent creative analogies, which is one of the most delightful parts of science writing. I also did all the photo research, acquiring more than 120 images from NASA, Draper Laboratory, and other sources.

The most unexpected part for me was working with a living subject. I’ve written biographies before but never about someone I could call up. It made me realize that even the most obvious conjectures about someone’s life might be completely wrong since Margaret had to correct me over and over. “No, it wasn’t like that,” she would admonish me.

I enjoyed our back-and-forth conversations devoted to getting her childhood, college years, and professional life exactly right. Looking back, she says that Apollo was the highpoint of her career. She is the highpoint of mine.

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