TIME space

Remembering the Apollo 11 Moon Landing With the Woman Who Made It Happen

Margaret Hamilton standing next to listings of the actual Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) source code.
NASA Margaret Hamilton standing next to listings of the actual Apollo Guidance Computer (AGC) source code.

Margaret Hamilton's software got man to the moon—but she didn't stop there

It was on this day, July 20, in 1969, that the Apollo 11 astronauts reached the moon and Neil Armstrong took his famous small step. People celebrated the world over, though few were more relieved than Margaret Hamilton.

“I remember thinking, Oh my God, it worked,” the pioneering software engineer tells TIME. “I was so happy. But I was more happy about it working than about the fact that we landed.”

The “it” that worked was Apollo 11’s on-board flight software, which Hamilton, as part of the MIT team working with NASA, led the effort to build. There was no guarantee things would play out so smoothly. In fact, just before the lunar landing was supposed to happen, alarms went off indicating that there wasn’t enough room on the computer for the landing software to work effectively. Turns out a radar was sending unnecessary data to the computer, overloading it with superfluous information.

The work that Hamilton had done helped enable the computer to figure out which of the multiple processes it had to do was most important. “It got rid of the lesser priority jobs and kept the higher priority jobs, which included the landing functions,” she explains.

That fix gave NASA the confidence to go ahead with the historic moon landing.

Hamilton was later given NASA’s Exceptional Space Act Award for her work on those Apollo systems. (She’s also credited with coining the term “software engineering.”) That she was successful in the pre-women’s lib era in a field that remains tough for women to crack has helped revive interest in her career: Hamilton achieved a sort of Internet fame recently when the photo above made the rounds.

Hamilton says that she was so wrapped up in her work that she didn’t notice the gender problems of the time until Mad Men came around and seemed a little too familiar. (Even if gender wasn’t uppermost in her mind, she did advance that cause too: Hamilton recalls that a woman on her team was told by the MIT credit union that she couldn’t get a loan without her husband’s signature, though male applicants didn’t need spousal approval. Hamilton complained about the policy and had it changed. “It was the culture, but I won, and I was so happy,” she recalls. “I didn’t do it because of male versus female; I was very conscious of what was fair and what wasn’t fair.”)

Part of what had made Hamilton’s work so effective was that she tested everything so rigorously, in a simulator that could demonstrate the “system of systems” at work, and the relationship between the software, the hardware and the astronaut. “We couldn’t run something up to the moon,” she says. But they could run lots of tests on the ground. Analyzing the errors that came up during testing, Hamilton’s team found that nearly three-quarters of them were interface errors, like conflicts in timing or priority. Since the computer code was on cards, a software engineer might write code that told the computer how many cards to advance; if someone later added a card in the middle while working on the code, that number would be wrong. Hamilton realized that those problems were avoidable.

“We’ve been working on this ever since Apollo—or starting with Apollo, I should say,” she says. “I’ve been on a mission in its own right, working with this Universal Systems Language, which allows you to get things up front. It’s kind of like a root canal: you waited till the end, [but] there are things you could have done beforehand. It’s like preventative healthcare, but it’s preventative software.”

She founded Hamilton Technologies Inc. in 1986, where she has continued her work with Universal Systems Language.

In 1969, TIME’s special report on the moon landing included the optimistic prediction that Mars would be up next, and soon (“as early as 1982″). Software reliability may not have much romantic appeal, but Hamilton believes it is key to future exploration of the universe, including Mars. Which makes sense, since reliable software saves money. Testing is expensive, so it’s cheaper for NASA (and private space programs) if problems can be caught in advance, thus requiring fewer tests. And cutting down on costly tests means smaller budgets that are more likely to get approved.

Which is something Hamilton is keen to see happen. “I hope,” she says, “that we continue with exploration.”

Read TIME’s special issue from 1969 about the Apollo 11 moon landing: Man on the Moon

Read next: The Smithsonian Needs Your Help to Display Neil Armstrong’s Spacesuit

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TIME space

NASA Probe Reveals Close-Up on Pluto’s Surface

“Pluto is just as geographically active as any other place we’ve seen in the solar system”

Two days after NASA released its first images from the New Horizons spacecraft, a team of the organization’s experts revealed new details about Pluto’s surface and atmosphere, as well as new close-up images of the dwarf planet.

In addition to the mountain ranges unveiled on Wednesday, NASA also provided details on the plains of Pluto, including one region dubbed “Sputnik Planum,” a large, crater-free area that is likely no more than 100 million years old. Among the other distinguishing features of dwarf planet’s surface are hills, pitted surfaces, troughs and dark material within those troughs.

“Pluto is just as geographically active as any other place we’ve seen in the solar system,” said Randy Gladstone, New Horizons co-investigator at Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. The experts also discussed the numerous craters on the planet’s surface, many of which have been partially destroyed, likely by erosion.

The scientists say that they will know much more about Pluto’s surface in a month or two, once further data has been processed and analyzed.

TIME climate change

Last Year Was the Hottest Since Temperature Record Keeping Began

The report also shows worldwide sea level rise and record high concentrations of major greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide

The average temperature around the world was higher last year than any year since modern record keeping began, climate experts said on July 16.

The findings, published in a new report in the journal Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, show climate trends across the globe in 2014. Researchers from all six inhabited continents found a worldwide sea level rise and record high concentrations of major greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.

“Many of these things aren’t isolated,” said Thomas Karl, an official at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), on a conference call for journalists. “It’s a whole global climate system and though we do decompose and focus on individual variables, these things are inextricably linked to each other.”

Almost every region in the world saw an increase in temperature, with the eastern part of North America standing out as the major exception. Twenty countries, including Mexico and many in Europe, set heat records. Overall, the past 18 years have seen 17 of the warmest years on record. The Arctic region, for example, had its fourth warmest year and also saw a decline in sea ice. The level of ice in September was nearly 20% below the average over the past three decades. The eight lowest levels have all occurred in the last eight years, according to the report.

Read More: Here’s Where People Are Most Concerned About Climate Change

The report’s results are the latest in the growing evidence of the effects of climate change. “The report of new records in several key climate markers should not surprise us,” said Jeffrey R. White, a professor at the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, in an emailed statement. “Earth’s land, ocean and atmosphere system is absorbing the heat with dramatic consequences that will play out in complex ways over time.”

The report comes months before a United Nations conference on climate change that many hope will yield a binding agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions. But even a strong agreement will face a challenge that’s difficult to stop in its tracks.

“I think of it more like a flywheel or a freight train,” said NOAA oceanographer Greg Johnson on a conference call with journalists. “It takes a big push to get it going, but it is moving now and will continue to move long after we stop pushing it.”

TIME Paleontology

Scientists Discover New Winged Dinosaur, Ancestor of Velociraptor

Velociraptor Dinosaur
Chuang Zhao—Ministry of Land and Resources of China/AFP/Getty Images An artist's reconstructed impression of the new short-armed and winged feathered dinosaur Zhenyuanlong suni from the Early Cretaceous (ca. 125 million years ago) of China.

The creature was feathered, but likely could not fly

Scientists have found a new dinosaur that was large, winged and feathered—but probably unable to fly.

The creature, which measures 6 ft., 6 in. long, was well preserved in limestone in northeast China about 125 million years ago. It is an ancestor of the velociraptor, and is believed to be a precursor to the true bird, since this species was too large for its wings to support flight.

The dinosaur is called “Zhenyuanlong,” meaning Zhenyuan’s dragon, after the man who obtained the fossil for the museum that studied it. One researcher told the BBC that even though it is a dinosaur, its feathers mean it would have looked “exactly like a turkey or a vulture.”

[BBC]

TIME animals

Why Mosquitoes Will Always Track You Down

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Getty Images

Scientists now understand how scent, sight and heat work together to lead the insects to humans

Ever wonder why mosquitoes seem drawn to your body like magnets? Scientists now understand the method the insects use to find their human prey, and it involves three steps.

According to new research published in the journal Current Biology, mosquitoes are attracted by the scent of CO2 — which is found in human breath. The insects can pick up on this trigger from a distance of 10 to 50 meters. Moving in closer, mosquitoes pick up on visual cues to find their target, an idea the researchers tested with a black spot on the floor of a wind tunnel. They can use sight to find humans from 5 to 15 meters. Finally, mosquitoes are attracted by the heat of the human body, which researchers confirmed with a heated glass panel that otherwise blended in with its surroundings. The insects can be drawn to heat from within a meter.

While scientists already knew that these three elements contributed to mosquitoes’ homing method, this is the first time they understand how all three parts work together.

[BBC]

Read next: What’s the World’s Deadliest Creature?

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TIME Food & Drink

Here Are the Four Types of Drunks, According to Science

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Getty Images

Are you a Mary Poppins or a Hemingway?

You know when you’re out with your friends at a bar, and you’ve all had the same amount to drink, yet one friend is giggling uncontrollably, another is telling a hilarious story to a group of strangers, a third is picking a fight with the bouncer, and the last is talking to the bartender as if those four Jägerbombs never happened? You might have wondered, well, what’s up with that?

Science to the rescue. Psychology researchers from the University of Missouri at Columbia have published a study in Addiction Research & Theory attempting to bring the conventional wisdom that there are many distinct ways to be drunk to its logical, scientifically-based conclusion. Their study, which involved 374 undergraduates at a large Midwestern university, drew from literature and pop culture in order to conclude that there are four types of drinkers: the Mary Poppins, the Ernest Hemingway, the Nutty Professor and the Mr. Hyde.

The first and largest group — about 40% — was the Ernest Hemingways. Named for the writer who famously boasted that he could “drink hells any amount of whiskey without getting drunk,” Hemingways do not exhibit any major changes in personality when they transition from sober to drunk, the study contends.

In contrast, Mary Poppins drinkers follow the “practically perfect in every way” description Poppins bestows on herself in the 1964 movie: they are already outgoing types who somehow get sweeter and happier with alcohol.

After that come the Nutty Professors, named for the chemically-altered academic with a second personality immortalized by Eddie Murphy. They, the study says, are natural introverts who shed their inhibitions with special vigor when they drink, showing a flashier and more social side.

And, lastly, there are the Mr. Hydes: the evil-twin drinkers who are, according to the study, “particularly less responsible, less intellectual, and more hostile when under the influence of alcohol.”

The study authors hope to use these categories to tailor future alcoholism interventions to particular personality types. Meanwhile, you can use them to take bets on how many beers in your Nutty Professor friend will have had enough to start flirting with that brunette by the jukebox.

Read more about the study here.

Read next: These States Still Ban Happy Hour

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TIME climate change

Some Parts of California May Soon Be Drought-Free

But here's why the state will still need a lot more water

Some parts of California now suffering from drought may soon be relieved, thanks to El Niño-related precipitation expected in the coming months, according to new government forecasts. But the precipitation is unlikely to provide enough relief to the mountain regions that provide most of the water for agriculture and consumers throughout the state.

The forecast, produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), shows “drought removal likely” in a small swath of the southeastern part of California by October 31. NOAA meteorologists said last week that there’s a 90% chance of El Niño continuing through winter and an 80% chance of it persisting through early spring. If it does, the drought-free area in California could expand along the coast and in the southern part of the state, according to NOAA climate prediction center meteorologist Matthew Rosencrantz.

Read More: How the California Drought Is Increasing the Potential for Devastating Wildfires

Courtesy of NOAA Climate Prediction CenterA small area in the Southeastern part of California, mapped in green, is likely to see drought end by October.
Courtesy of NOAA Climate Prediction CenterA small area in the Southeastern part of California, mapped in green, is likely to see drought end by October.

But relief in those regions will do little to alleviate most of the drought’s worst effects. Most of the water used for consumer consumption and in agriculture comes from reservoirs in the north of the state, and forecasts don’t show those areas receiving a boost in precipitation. In fact, the state’s Department of Water Resources says that in Northern and Central California there’s “almost no correlation between precipitation and El Niño.”

“For northern California and the reservoirs, there’s not much certainty” of relief, says Rosencrantz. “Local agriculture, non-irrigation agriculture, could have a benefit this winter, but for anybody that relies on the aqueducts that come through central California there’s not enough certainty.”

Outside of California, forecasts show the drought expanding, particularly in the north of the country. Montana and Idaho are both expected to see more area affected by the drought in coming months. Puerto Rico, which is already suffering a severe drought, is also expected to see even drier coming months. El Niño is likely at the root of these changes, says Rosencrantz. In addition to increasing precipitation in the Southwest, the climate phenomenon leads to dry spells in northern regions.

TIME space

Space Junk Forces Space Station Crew to Seek Shelter

The debris was a fragment from an old Russian weather satellite

A chunk of space debris traveling more than eight miles per second forced three crew members aboard the International Space Station to seek emergency shelter on Thursday. NASA said the debris was a fragment from an old Russian weather satellite.

For almost an hour, American astronaut Scott Kelly and Russian cosmonauts Mikhail Kornienko and Gennady Padalka were instructed to stay inside the Soyuz capsule, which is docked to the International Space Station. This is only the fourth time in the 15-year life of the space station that it has had to implement this procedure, NASA said.

Video aboard the station showed Kelly, Kornienko and Padalka moving throughout the station to close hatches.

“Happy there was no impact,” Kelly said via Twitter. “Great coordination with international ground teams. Excellent training.”

Normally, NASA learns about incoming debris with more lead time. When it has more warning, jets on the station fire to maneuver the football-field sized structure out of the way. The ISS has been moved twice for debris since Scott Kelly came aboard in late March. But on Thursday, the crew only had 90 minutes notice. Another hour-and-a-half later, the crew received the all-clear and went back to work.

NASA estimates there may be as many as half-a-million pieces of debris that could pose a threat to spacecraft like the International Space Station, which orbits at a speed of about 17,500 mph, or four miles per second.

The debris that crossed the space station was estimated to be traveling about twice that speed.

Next week, three more crew members are scheduled to launch from Kazakhstan to join those on board.

Kelly and Kornienko are 110 days into a yearlong mission aboard the space station. It’s being covered by time in a multi-part TIME series, “A Year in Space,” which premiered last week. Click here to watch the series, or watch Episode 1, “Leaving Home,” below.

Read next: See the First Close-Up Photo of Mars Ever Taken

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TIME Research

Scientists Now Know Why People Scream

scream
Hans Neleman / Getty Images

Your brain processes shrieks differently from speech, finds a new study

A baby wails upon an airplane’s liftoff, a person shrieks when he stumbles upon something shocking, a kid throws a tantrum because she wants to get her way—people scream in reaction to all kinds of situations.

But exactly why we scream has remained a mystery. Now, new research published in the journal Current Biology suggests that hearing a scream may activate the brain’s fear circuitry, acting as a cautionary signal.

Scream science is a new area of study, so David Poeppel, a professor of psychology and neural science at New York University, and his co-authors collected an array of screams from YouTube, films and 19 volunteer screamers who screamed in a lab sound booth. (This last collection method, by the way, was a highlight for Poeppel, who said he found listening to and judging screams an amusing break from the monotony of lab work.)

The researchers first measured the sound properties of screams versus normal conversation. They measured the scream’s volume and looked at how volunteers responded behaviorally to screams. They then looked at brain images of people listening to screams and saw something they found fascinating—screams weren’t being interpreted by the brain the way normal sounds were.

Normally, your brain takes a sound you hear and delivers it to a section of your brain dedicated to making sense of these sounds: What is the gender of the speaker? Their age? Their tone?

Screams, however, don’t seem to follow that route. Instead, the team discovered that screams are sent from the ear to the amygdala, the brain’s fear processing warehouse, says Poeppel.

“In brain imaging parts of the experiment, screams activate the fear circuitry of the brain,” he says. “The amygdala is a nucleus in the brain especially sensitive to information about fear.” That means screams are inherently considered not just sound but a trigger for heightened awareness.

From these screams, Poeppel and his team mapped “roughness,” an acoustic description for how fast a sound changes in loudness. While normal speech modulates between 4 and 5 Hz in sound variation, screams spike between 30 and 150 Hz. The higher the sound variation, the more terrifying the scream is perceived.

Poeppel and his team had volunteers listen to different alarm sounds and found people responded to alarms with similar variations: The more the alarms varied at higher rates, the more terrifying they were judged to be.

That huge variation in scream roughness is a clue to how our brains process danger sounds, Poeppel says. Screaming serves not only to convey danger but also to induce fear in the listener and heighten awareness for both screamer and listener to respond to their environment.

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