Friday, July 31, 2009

Miracles of Science, the Moon, and MIT

It's great when friends visit from out of town. For one thing, you get to see things in your own area that you'd probably never see otherwise. When my friend Rob Simbeck visited from Nashville last week, we hung out and did music and stuff, but we also took a day trip into Cambridge. After lunch at the geek-chic Miracle of Science Bar & Grill, we spent a few hours at the MIT Museum, which amazingly enough, I had never visited.

The MIT Museum has especially great exhibits on robotics and holography, but I also liked the small exhibit on Apollo. Much of the work on guidance and navigation was done at MIT's Draper Laboratory, including the development of the AGC (Apollo Guidance Computer - try it for yourself, or read the history here). Some of the development hardware was on display, along with a reproduction of a large blackboard showing the Command Module GN&C Block Diagram (interactive version here). Very cool stuff.

It's also cool that forty years later, Draper Labs continues to be involved with systems for landing on the moon, as discussed in this recent article in the MIT Technology Review. Their system for NASA's Altair lander will be a lot smarter and friendlier than the AGC. It will use LIDAR (laser radar) to accurately characterize the lunar surface so the software can recommend the best landing options, as shown in the simulator image above.

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