Margaret Hamilton, who we see in this rare historical photo from 1969, is the software engineer that history forgot to mention, unlike Neil Armstrong or Buzz Aldrin. Hamilton led the NASA software team that landed the Apollo astronauts on the moon. She was a software engineer before anyone knew this term, and in this photo she is standing next to what is believed to be the code or program list that led to the success of the Apollo mission.

"She was a pioneer in software engineering development, and… a pioneer as a woman to do that job, with that role." - said Dr. Teasel Muir-Harmony, curator of the Apollo Project collection at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. 

A few minutes before the moon landing, the alarms went off. The radar that would have been used for reentry on the command module (and which at that time had no role) was activated by mistake. The radar began to send a huge amount of data to the computer, also the result of the random electrical noise caused by the incompatible power supplies of the two devices. Overloading the computer entailed an enormous risk: it left no more room for the calculations necessary to guarantee the moon landing.

Margaret Hamilton anticipated this eventuality while writing the software. The program, in fact, was developed not only to detect and report an overload problem. He was able to "sort" and organize the tasks that were assigned: the most important processes, fundamental for the landing on the Moon, could interrupt the unnecessary ones. In those excited moments the software acted as expected.

"If the computer hadn't identified the problem and solved it, I doubt the Apollo 11 mission would have been successful," Hamilton wrote in a March 1971 letter.

Margaret Hamilton is 78 today and heads Hamilton Technologies, the software development company she founded in 1986. It was she who coined the term "Software Engineering".

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Ashley
    Aug 13, 2022 @ 14:38:54

    A great lady indeed! Didn’t she receive a medal from President Obama? Amazing lady! πŸ™‹β€β™‚οΈ


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