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"I'm a fairly visual thinker. In doing science, I think in terms of pictures of things happening, and then do the mathematics."
- Gregory Benford

Ballistic Calculator  
  An on-board computer for a spaceship to calculate its course and perform other related tasks.  

Libby was assigned to the ballistic calculator, three tons of thinking metal that dominated the plotting room. He loved the big machine. The Chief Fire Controlman let him help adjust it and care for it. Libby subconsciously thought of it as a person -- his own kind of person.

On the last day of the approach, the shocks were more frequent. Libby sat in the right-hand saddle of the calculator and droned out the predictions for the next salvo, while gloating over the accuracy with which the machine tracked.

From Misfit, by Robert Heinlein.
Published by Astounding Science Fiction in 1939
Additional resources -

Obviously, RAH didn't invent the ballistic calculator, but he shows originality in applying the same ideas to moving an asteroid to a new orbit. Heinlein graduated from US Naval Academy at Annapolis in 1929; in 1930 he learned how to run devices like the machines that coordinated a ship's main battery, like the Mark XVII Director and Mark III Range Keeper.


(Ford Mark I Range Keeper)

Here's a quote from Robert Heinlein: 1907-1948 Learning Curve, by William H. Patterson:

Heinlein also took the opportunity in Long Beach to stock up on reading material... Amazing Stories had just started a serial by E.E. 'Doc' Smith - "Skylark III" in August. This was a sequel to "Skylark of Space" which appeared while Heinlein was still a midshipman. "Skylark III" was even more engrossing. He risked taking the second installment one midwatch and reading it with one eye on the gauges...

Buddy Scoles and he shared the science-fiction magazines and talked about interplanetary rockets on board the Navy's most expensive, most high-tech vessel run by the latest computers...

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Misfit
  More Ideas and Technology by Robert Heinlein
  Tech news articles related to Misfit
  Tech news articles related to works by Robert Heinlein

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