Women in Science Wednesday is THL’s biweekly blog where we feature a female scientist and her intellectual contributions to STEM.
Margaret Hamilton (born August 17, 1936)
Margaret Hamilton is a computer scientist and software engineer, most famous for her work with NASA on the Apollo 11 mission. Hamilton was Director of the Software Engineering Division of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, which developed on-board flight software for the Apollo space program. At NASA, Hamilton’s team was responsible for helping pioneer the Apollo on-board guidance software required to navigate and land on the Moon.
Hamilton’s work prevented an abort of the Apollo 11 Moon landing. Three minutes before the space ship reached the Moon’s surface, several computer alarms were triggered. The computer was overloaded with incoming data, because the rendezvous radar system (not necessary for landing) updated an involuntary counter in the computer, which stole cycles from the computer. However, due to its engineering, the computer was able to keep running: the Apollo onboard flight software was developed using an “asynchronous executive” so that higher priority jobs (important for landing) could interrupt lower priority jobs. The fault was attributed to a faulty checklist and the radar being erroneously activated by the crew. If the software had not functioned, the moon landing might not have happened,” space writer A.J.S. Rayl writes. Margaret Hamilton’s anticipation and ingenious software allowed humankind’s first landing on the moon, making her an unsung hero in science.
Read Magnificent Minds by Pendred Noyce to learn about other inspiring women in science, along with Remarkable Minds, which will be released in September, 2015.