Margaret Hamilton is best known for her contribution to software engineering, a concept she pioneered and that has found its way from the moon landing to nearly every human endeavor.
At age 24, and with an undergraduate degree in mathematics, Hamilton had gotten a job as a programmer at MIT, with the aim of supporting her husband through his three-year degree at Harvard Law. After that, she planned to continue her own education. However, when she got the opportunity to work for Apollo space program, she couldn’t help but stay in the lab to lead an epic feat of engineering that would help change the future.
As a working mother in the 1960s, Hamilton was already an outlier. However, as a spaceship programmer working in the tech and engineering field that was and still is today notoriously dominated by males, Hamilton was exceptionally rare.
At the MIT Instrumentation Lab where Hamilton worked, she and her colleagues were inventing core ideas in computer programming as they wrote the code for the world’s first portable computer. But as the Apollo project unfolded, the centrality of software in accomplishing the mission started to become clear. In 1965, Hamilton became responsible for the onboard flight software on the Apollo computers. It was an exciting time, and the US was depending on the work that she was doing. Not only would she enable the US to win the race to the moon, the software she was coding would go on to help the world do so much more: as Hamilton and her colleagues were programming the Apollo spacecraft, they were also hatching what would become a $400 billion industry.