Margaret Hamilton – The Software Engineer Behind Apollo Missions

Margaret H. Hamilton - The computer scientist behind Apollo Missions of NASA. Her software powered the Apollo Mission 11.

Looking back, we were the luckiest people in the world. There was no choice but to be pioneers; no time to be beginners.”-Margaret Hamilton.

As a software engineer and entrepreneur, Margaret is now a source of inspiration for millions of women.

With her sheer determination and a positive attitude, she not only raised a family but become a well-recognized software engineer. 

Childhood and Education

Margaret H. Hamilton was born on 17 August 1936 to Kenneth Heafield and Ruth Esther Heafield.

She spent her childhood in the small town of Paoli in Orange County. After completing high school at Hancock High School, Margaret studied mathematics at Earlham College, University of Michigan.

It was at the Eartham college, she met her future husband and soon got married. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in 1958 with a Major in Mathematics and a Minor in philosophy. (Source)

Work

After graduating, Margaret Hamilton started to work as a mathematics teacher in a high school. However, she left her job soon and move to Boston along with her husband.

Margaret’s aim was to get enrolled in the Brandeis University but eventually joined MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) as a programmer to support her family.

Next, she moved to MIT’s Lincoln Laboratory in 1961 and started to work for the Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) project. This was the first air-defense system of the U.S. 

With her skill set and experience, she successfully wrote the program that can detect an enemy aircraft.

Then, she moved to the Instrumentation Laboratory of MIT. Here, she lead a team that ultimately developed software to guide and control the systems to be used in the Apollo Mission.

During those days, there were no schools or colleges to learn software engineering. So, everything was done by the team members themselves.

Also, nobody had any idea that software can play a crucial role in Apollo Mission, but as reality strikes them, the team size was increased manifold.

She became the Director of the Software Engineering Division.

It was her team that was responsible for developing the onboard flight software for the Apollo Space Program. 

It was Margaret who coined the term ‘software engineering.

She specifically was focused on detecting system errors and information recovery in case of a computer crash.

No wonder her work was remarkable and played a pivotal role in the success of the 1969 Apollo Mission. 

Hamilton continued to work on the remaining Apollo missions and the first space station of America.

Next, Margaret Hamilton worked in the private sector and co-founded a company in 1976. After a decade, she established Hamilton Technologies.

Awards

Margaret Hamilton received numerous awards in her illustrious career as a scientist and entrepreneur.

Recently, she was honored by the tech giant Google for her immense contribution to the success of the Apollo 11 mission by making a moonlit portrait out of more than 100,000 solar mirrors placed in the Mojave Desert, North America.

Let’s have a look at some of the most reputed awards received by Margaret. 

1986- Augusta Ada Lovelace Award

2003-Exceptional Space Act Award by NASA

2009- Outstanding Alumni Award by Earlham College

2016-Presidential Medal of Freedom

2017-Immortalized in the form of a Lego figurine

2019- Intrepid Lifetime Achievement Award

In 2018, Margaret Hamilton also offered her keynote address at an international conference organized in Sweden. She had so far published more than 130 papers and reports.

References

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Margaret-Hamilton-American-computer-scientist

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2019/jul/13/margaret-hamilton-computer-scientist-interview-software-apollo-missions-1969-moon-landing-nasa-women

https://www.computer.org/publications/tech-news/events/what-to-know-about-the-scientist-who-invented-the-term-software-engineering

https://computerhistory.org/profile/margaret-hamilton/

https://nasa.fandom.com/wiki/Margaret_Hamilton_(scientist)

https://www.fastcompany.com/90449853/this-woman-knows-the-secret-to-fixing-big-techs-most-pervasive-problem

https://www.space.com/margaret-hamilton-apollo-programmer-intrepid-award.html

https://superstarsbio.com/bios/margaret-hamilton/

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