The photo above has been making rounds all over the Internet. It was captioned, “Margaret Hamilton, Apollo Program”. But despite its virality, the photo didn’t tell anything about who Margaret was.
Long ago, operating calculating machines was considered a “woman’s work”. It was even thought to be plainly keypunching, such as typing. As part of the Manhattan Project, women operated and programmed all the punchcard machines used for calculations.
According to reports, “Despite the tendency of the project physicists to minimize their contribution, this was demanding work, much more than just moving cards from slot to slot – they were usually given requirements from the tech people, but often designed the approach and set up the calculations themselves”.
The fact that women did most of the programming extended into the earliest days of the computer. This only means majority of the pioneering and earliest programmers were women. Here is one interesting fact. It was Grace Hopper, who wrote the world’s first ever compiler.
Aside from Hopper, Margaret’s name rings a bell to many because of her contributions in the aeronautics industry. Margaret Hamilton was Project Apollo’s lead software engineer.
Margaret earned her BA in math at Earlham College. Because of her on-the-job training, she learned how to program. In the photo above, she is seen standing in front of the printouts of the code for the guidance system of the Apollo, most of which she oversaw and wrote.
Using her code, the Apollo 11 Lunar Module successfully landed on the moon. Its success is credited to her, who designed the software “robustly enough to handle buffer overflows and cycle-stealing”.
Margaret is now a tech CEO. She also recently won the ’86 Lovelace Award and a NASA Exceptional Space Art Award.
Apparently, the engineers working at NASA aren’t just boys with narrow black ties and crewcuts. Now, we know that there are also women behind their successful attempts in space.
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