Have you heard the name Margaret Hamilton before? Are you aware of her astounding contributions to the field of computer science? Did you know she popularized the term software engineering?
Who is Margaret Hamilton?
Margaret Hamilton is an American software engineer and computer scientist best known for leading the team responsible for creating the software for the Apollo moon missions and Skylab space station. It was her code that enabled the human race to travel to the moon and back.1
Born in Paoli, Indiana, Margaret H. Hamilton attended Earlham College and the University of Michigan to study math. In 1958, she earned her bachelor’s degree and intended to attend Brandeis University for graduate school. Instead, Hamilton accepted a temporary position at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she worked to create weather prediction software.2
She aimed to pursue a math graduate degree, but when the Apollo space program started, Hamilton remained in the lab to oversee an amazing engineering achievement that would alter the future of what was humanly and digitally possible.2
NASA’s Apollo Mission
MIT was instrumental in the creation of the flight software for NASA’s Apollo program, which resulted in the first human lunar landing in 1969.3 Margaret Hamilton oversaw the MIT instrumentation laboratory’s software engineering division, which produced the guidance system for the Apollo program, and she was one of the many people who contributed to this effort. Due to the success of her earlier work, Hamilton was the first programmer hired for the Apollo project.3
Margaret Hamilton created software that was more dependable and durable than ever, as she recognized the need for software that could handle unforeseen issues and mistakes. She was in charge of the group that created the software for the Apollo missions’ in-flight command and lunar module guidance and control systems. She led her team in conducting an empirical analysis based on lessons discovered during the creation of the Apollo on-board flight software as the project’s capstone.3
On weekends and in the evenings, Hamilton would bring her daughter Lauren to the lab. One such night, Lauren was playing the role of an astronaut in the flight simulator when it crashed because Lauren had chosen a pre-launch program while the plane was still in the air.
Hamilton understood that if an astronaut entered a command code incorrectly while on a mission, terrible consequences could result. So, she suggested a software design that would prevent this kind of human error and maintain the functionality of the flight systems.3
On July 20, 1969, an unexpected issue arose during Apollo 11’s attempt to touch down on the moon. As the lead software designer for the Apollo missions, Hamilton had developed a priority display system that would alert astronauts to any errors or systemic issues. She also made sure that the software’s priority scheduling could finish important tasks on time, like getting ready for takeoff, by ignoring less important ones. As a result, the Apollo 11 crew safely returned to Earth after a successful moon landing despite all odds.4
Hamilton, who has authored more than 130 scientific papers, is also credited with popularizing the term software engineering to denote her area of expertise.4 Hamilton received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama in 2016 in recognition of her work developing on-board flight software for NASA’s Apollo moon missions. “She symbolizes that generation of unsung women who helped send humankind into space,” President Barack Obama said of Hamilton.3
To learn more about such remarkable programmers and their many accomplishments, read the articles below.
You can also visit BYJU’S FutureSchool Blog to read more inspiring articles on coding and math.
- Margaret Hamilton Led the NASA Software Team That Landed Astronauts on the Moon | At the Smithsonian| Smithsonian Magazine. (n.d.). Retrieved September 11, 2022, from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/smithsonian-institution/margaret-hamilton-led-nasa-software-team-landed-astronauts-moon-180971575/
- Margaret Hamilton | Biography & Facts | Britannica. (n.d.). Retrieved September 11, 2022, from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Margaret-Hamilton-American-computer-scientist
- Margaret Hamilton: ‘They worried that the men might rebel. They didn’t’ | Computing | The Guardian. (n.d.). Retrieved September 12, 2022, from https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/jul/13/margaret-hamilton-computer-scientist-interview-software-apollo-missions-1969-moon-landing-nasa-women
- The Computer Scientist Who Saved the Moon Landing | A Mighty Girl. (n.d.). Retrieved September 11, 2022, from https://www.amightygirl.com/blog?p=20084