Margaret Hamilton

American computer scientist credited with co-creating the very idea of "software," known for creating the in-flight software used on the Apollo 11 mission

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"Margaret Heafield Hamilton is an American computer scientist, systems engineer, and business owner. She was Director of the Software Engineering Division of the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory, which developed on-board flight software for the Apollo space program. In 1986, she became the founder and CEO of Hamilton Technologies, Inc., in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The company was developed around the Universal Systems Language based on her paradigm of Development Before the Fact (DBTF) for systems and software design.


Hamilton has published over 130 papers, proceedings, and reports about the 60 projects and six major programs in which she has been involved.


On November 22, 2016, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by U.S. President Barack Obama for her work leading the development of on-board flight software for NASA's Apollo Moon missions…


She moved to Boston, Massachusetts, with the intention of doing graduate study in abstract mathematics at Brandeis University. She cites a female math professor as helping her desire to pursue abstract mathematics. She had other inspirations outside the technological world, including her father, the philosopher and poet, and her grandfather, a school headmaster and Quaker Minister. She says these men inspired her to a minor in philosophy. In 1960 she took an interim position at MIT to develop software for predicting weather on the LGP-30 and the PDP-1 computers (at Marvin Minsky's Project MAC) for professor Edward Norton Lorenz in the meteorology department. Hamilton wrote that at that time, computer science and software engineering were not yet disciplines; instead, programmers learned on the job with hands-on experience.


From 1961 to 1963, she worked on the SAGE Project at Lincoln Lab, where she was one of the programmers who wrote software for the first AN/FSQ-7 computer (the XD-1), to search for unfriendly aircraft; she also wrote software for the Air Force Cambridge Research Laboratories…


Hamilton then joined the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory at MIT, which at the time was working on the Apollo space mission. She eventually led a team credited with developing the software for Apollo and Skylab. Hamilton's team was responsible for developing in-flight software, which included algorithms designed by various senior scientists for the Apollo command module, lunar lander, and the subsequent Skylab. Another part of her team designed and developed the systems software which included the error detection and recovery software such as restarts and the Display Interface Routines (AKA the Priority Displays) which Hamilton designed and developed. She worked to gain hands-on experience during a time when computer science courses were uncommon and software engineering courses did not exist.


Her areas of expertise include systems design and software development, enterprise and process modelling, development paradigm, formal systems modeling languages, system-oriented objects for systems modelling and development, automated life-cycle environments, methods for maximizing software reliability and reuse, domain analysis, correctness by built-in language properties, open-architecture techniques for robust systems, full life-cycle automation, quality assurance, seamless integration, error detection and recovery techniques, man-machine interface systems, operating systems, end-to-end testing techniques, and life-cycle management techniques.


In one of the critical moments of the Apollo 11 mission, the Apollo Guidance Computer together with the on-board flight software averted an abort of the landing on the Moon. Three minutes before the Lunar lander reached the Moon's surface, several computer alarms were triggered. The computer was overloaded with interrupts caused by incorrectly phased power supplied to the lander's rendezvous radar. The program alarms indicated "executive overflows", meaning the guidance computer could not complete all of its tasks in real time and had to postpone some of them… Dr. Paul Curto, senior technologist who nominated Hamilton for a NASA Space Act Award, called Hamilton's work "the foundation for ultra-reliable software design."...


From 1976 through 1984, Hamilton was the CEO of a company she co-founded called Higher Order Software (HOS) to further develop ideas about error prevention and fault tolerance emerging from her experience at MIT. They created a product called USE.IT, based on the HOS methodology developed at MIT. It was successfully used in numerous government projects. One notable project was to formalize and implement the first computable IDEF, C-IDEF for the Air Force, based on HOS as its formal foundation…


Hamilton made up the term "software engineering" during the Apollo space mission days:


During this time at MIT, she wanted to give their software “legitimacy”, just like with other engineering disciplines, so that it (and those building it) would be given its due respect; and, as a result she made up the term “software engineering” to distinguish it from other kinds of engineering…


  • In 1986, she received the Augusta Ada Lovelace Award by the Association for Women in Computing…

  • In 2003, she was given the NASA Exceptional Space Act Award for scientific and technical contributions. The award included $37,200, the largest amount awarded to any individual in NASA's history.

  • In 2009, she received the Outstanding Alumni Award by Earlham College.

  • In 2016, she received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Barack Obama, the highest civilian honor in the United States.

  • On April 28, 2017, she received the "Computer History Museum Fellow Award" that honors exceptional men and women whose ideas have changed the world.

  • In 2017, a "Women of NASA" LEGO set went on sale featuring (among other things) mini-figurines of Hamilton, Mae Jemison, Sally Ride, and Nancy Grace Roman." (1)

From Wikipedia