Margaret Hamilton: Software Pioneer (Photo)


This is Margaret Hamilton, who was the lead software engineer for the NASA Apollo space flights to the moon--back when computer science was still a nascent field, and all that typing was considered women's work. The stack of papers besides her was a print-out of the code she wrote for the Apollo 11 mission.

Margaret Hamilton by NASA. Wikimedia Commons

This was before the days of programming, back when slinging code was called software engineering. As the most junior member if the team, she was assigned to write the subroutine to handle the spacecraft should the mission be aborted. She figured no one would pay attention to this code--it was called " Forget It."

The mission aborted, so suddenly she was the expert for the entire mission. Over time she became versed in areas we now think of as the bedrock of computer science, though at the time were nasecent concepts--operating systems, interfaces, error detection and recovery.

Eventually she was put in charge of the command module software and the later all the onboard software.