Photo celebrates unsung NASA software engineer Margaret Hamilton

Maragret Hamilton

Female accomplishments are too often overlooked in our history books, but this photo looks to change that by celebrating one of history's coolest ladies.

Margaret Hamilton was the lead software engineer for NASA's Project Apollo and created the code that let Apollo 11 land on the moon. As this Medium article points out, "The engineers weren't all boys with crewcuts, short sleeve oxford shirts, and narrow black ties. That's just a fairy tale they told for a while."

It's not an exaggeration to say that Hamilton was directly responsible for some of NASA's most impressive achievements. In 1971 she shared this story in an issue of Datamation about a tense moment in the Apollo 11 moon landing and how the software she designed was able to handle it:

Due to an error in the checklist manual, the rendezvous radar switch was placed in the wrong position. This caused it to send erroneous signals to the computer. The result was that the computer was being asked to perform all of its normal functions for landing while receiving an extra load of spurious data which used up 15% of its time. The computer (or rather the software in it) was smart enough to recognize that it was being asked to perform more tasks than it should be performing. It then sent out an alarm, which meant to the astronaut, I'm overloaded with more tasks than I should be doing at this time and I'm going to keep only the more important tasks; i.e., the ones needed for landing … Actually, the computer was programmed to do more than recognize error conditions. A complete set of recovery programs was incorporated into the software. The software's action, in this case, was to eliminate lower priority tasks and re-establish the more important ones … If the computer hadn't recognized this problem and taken recovery action, I doubt if Apollo 11 would have been the successful moon landing it was.

You can read more about Hamilton on Wired and check out an interview with her over on Medium.